SIJ is a program that allows victimized youths from broken families to remain in the US and obtain permanent residence. An attempt by the Trump Administration to, effectively restrict SIJ status to children 18 or under was stopped by the federal courts.
To qualify, the youth must be under 21 and (1) the child is declared to be a dependent by a state juvenile court (2) and cannot be reunified with one or both parents due to the parent’s abuse, neglect, abandonment of the child (3) and it is in the best interest of the child not to be returned to his parent’s country of nationality. In many states, including New York, the child can be living with one parent in the US and the other parent can also be living in the US as long as the absent parent is guilty of abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child.
By far, the largest number of children who qualify for SIJ are from countries in Central America where they are also fleeing persecution at the hands of gangs with government acquiesce. This has resulted in a 2-year waiting list for issuing green cards to citizens from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
The choice between asylum and SIJ will depend on the facts of each case, but the decision can have major consequences. A child granted asylum may have difficulty returning to his home country but can often petition for one or both parents when the child later becomes a US citizen. A child granted SIJ can return home after obtaining permanent residency but can never petition for either parent, including the custodial one.