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Program offers permanent residency for legal wards of the state

As South Carolina readers may know, thousands of young undocumented immigrants are going through the application process right now to take advantage of Homeland Security's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But what many may not know is that thousands of undocumented children acquire permanent residency each year through a little-known immigration program that has been in effect for 15 years.

Under certain circumstances, the law provides young, undocumented immigrants with a green card marked with the code SL6. The code signifies permanent residency under "special immigrant juvenile" status. Still, qualification for SIJ status comes at a high price. In order to qualify, a person must be under 21 years of age and under the legal care of a state government due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

One young woman received an SL6 green card only because her mother was deported and her brother taken into custody. At 16-years-old, the teenager found herself in foster care as a ward of the state. Two years later, she misses her mother but also considers herself fortunate to have been able to remain in the United States.

Most young immigrants who will be eligible for temporary work visas under the deferred action program will not qualify for SIJ status. However, some immigration professionals speculate that the temporary protection offered by the deferred action policy may prompt some young immigrants to come forward with previously unreported instances of abuse or neglect.

If previously undocumented young immigrants feel encouraged to share information about their situations and ask for state support under appropriate circumstances, the SIJS program may become an increasingly important pathway toward permanent resident status.

Source: Huffington Post, "Visa offers path for immigrant youth in state care," Ashley Hopkinson, Aug. 25, 2012

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