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Young immigrants may qualify for visas, not asylum

Many immigrants in South Carolina who are fleeing violence in Central America or other parts of the world do not qualify for asylum. An asylum applicant must show that they are being threatened in their home country because of their political views or membership in a certain group. While a person may fear real threats of gang violence, these fears are not always enough to make a person eligible for asylum.

One asylum applicant from El Salvador traveled to the United States after four gang members killed his cousin and his uncle in front of him. Knowing that the gang would want him dead as well, the 12-year-old boy knew that he would have to leave home. His mother, who was already living in the U.S., paid for her son to come to New York and then helped him apply for asylum. However, an attorney told the family that the boy did not have a good case for asylum and should apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status visa instead.

The SIJS visa was created 25 years ago to help undocumented children living in foster care. Recently, the eligibility requirements for SIJS were changed so that more children could qualify. The boy from El Salvador qualified for an SIJS visa because one of his parents, his father, had abused or abandoned him. In 2015, there have already been over 6,000 SIJS visas approved by the federal government.

An immigrant child who has arrived in the United States may need help from an attorney in order to apply for immigrant visas. Immigrant children often have more opportunities than adults to change their legal status in the U.S., so it may be a good idea for a family to seek legal immigration help for minors sooner rather than later.

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