SIJS Processing Times Updates
I've filed a number of SIJS cases since May 2017 with no action. Under TVPRA 2008, those cases are supposed to be decided within 6 months and that is what we used to see. However, a number of factors have created the perfect storm to slow down decisions by USCIS.
SIJS cases are now all routed to the National Benefits Center, instead of decided at local Field Offices. There was a huge influx of children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador fleeing gang violence and unsafe conditions beginning in 2014: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/15/us/questions-about-the-border-kids.html. Many of those children applied for this pathway to a lawful permanent resident card. This pathway differs from asylum in that it is limited to children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected by one or more of their birth parents. They also have to be under the age of 18 (unless their state court extends eligibility to age 21), be placed under the custody of an individual or placed in foster care, and it has to be found that it would not be in their best interests to return to their home country.
Centralization of these cases at the National Benefits Center is designed to lead to more consistent decisions, unlike in the past when similar facts would lead to different results based on which local office decided the case. However, centralization combined with a huge influx of cases have led to long delays in decisions.
Many of my clients are desperate to get authority to work, apply for college, obtain a driver's license or otherwise move on with their lives. In all of my cases, the children have actually been adopted by U.S. citizens. However, due to the delays, they are stuck in limbo.
At the fall AILA D.C. Regional Conference last week, we discussed this problem. Other practitioners report that there is no meaningful way to check the status of their case because processing times for the I-360 form decided at the National Benefits Center are not listed on the www.uscis.gov web-site. If they call the USCIS Customer Service Number, they are told to make an Infopass appointment at their local office. This is not helpful because the case is not located at the local office. One Customer Service staffer told my client to write a letter to the Vermont Service Center to inquire about the case status. This was completely erroneous because the case is being processed at a different location, the National Benefits Center. We have also found that inquires from U.S. Senators or Representatives and the USCIS Ombudsmen's Office lead to canned responses that the cases are being worked on and are in the queue.
We applaud the efforts to bring consistency to the process through centralization at the National Benefits Center. However, we strongly suggest that USCIS update the web-site and train customer service representatives to give more accurate information about case status. These vulnerable children deserve that.