Los Angeles County immigrants rights organizations filed suit Monday in a bid to force the Biden administration to promptly issue work permits to young immigrants who have applications pending for special youth visas.
Young immigrants must sometimes wait up to six years before being granted permits to work — a policy that has left some immigrants to work for unscrupulous employers while waiting to receive authorization, according to the civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others. The delay can also mean that tens of thousands of young immigrants with pending or approved visas cannot obtain any form of identification or a driver’s license, the proposed class-action complaint says.
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson said the department does not comment on pending litigation. However, USCIS issued a new policy alert on Monday that revises the guidelines for Special Immigrant Juveniles — or SIJs — seeking work permits. Under the new guidelines, USCIS will, on a “case-by-case basis … determine whether the non-citizen with (approved) SIJ classification warrants a favorable exercise of discretion,” and if so, will allow them to apply for work permits.
Peter Schey, lead counsel and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the policy revision was “a small step in the right direction.” He said the lawsuit demands that SIJ visa applications be decided within six months as required by federal law, an issue not addressed in USCIS’s new policy alert, and that work permits be issued promptly to all approvable SIJ applicants, not on a case-by-case basis, at USCIS’s discretion. It currently takes USCIS about a year to approve SIJ petitions and another year to approve applications for work permits, according to Schey. He questioned how long USCIS will take to decide each case.
“If this takes another year, SIJ applicants will still face a three- year wait to get work permits,” Schey said. “The lawsuit seeks prompt work permits for all SIJ applicants with approvable petitions, not just those with ‘approved’ petitions.
“These vulnerable young people sought freedom from an environment of instability, uncertainty and violence by seeking sanctuary in the United States,” Schey said. “Making them wait six years to receive work permits and forcing them to live in destitution brings them more instability, uncertainty and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers. These delays frustrate Congress’ purpose in creating this humanitarian protection. The Biden administration must right this terrible wrong.”
According to the lawsuit, there is “no rational, substantial or compelling reason for the disparate and discriminatory way in which Defendants treat young abused, neglected and abandoned immigrants filing SIJ petitions.”