Governor signs bill extending protections to vulnerable young immigrants

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that helps protect vulnerable young immigrants in Washington. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and Columbia Legal Services, who had worked together to advocate for the passage of the legislation, applaud the work of the legislature and the Governor on this important issue. (En Espanol)

"We are grateful for our state leadership in ensuring that young adult immigrants who have experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect now have the opportunity to gain protection. Many of these young people have fled abuse in their home countries and will now gain safety and new opportunities in Washington State, rather than face the prospect of deportation," said Jorge L. Barón, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Under federal law, young immigrants who are abused, abandoned, or neglected, and are unable to reunite with a parent, are eligible to apply for federal Special Immigrant Juvenile status (SIJS). A young person who qualifies for SIJS is provided a road to citizenship. While the federal protection of SIJS extends up to age 21, Washington did not have in place the judicial mechanism necessary to trigger the federal protection. With this legislation, House Bill 1988 (HB1988), Washington joins other states in aligning state law with this important federal protection.

With Governor Inslee’s signature today on HB1988, state courts will soon be able appoint limited guardians for vulnerable youth up to age 21, a step necessary to qualify for SIJS protection. HB1988 was sponsored by Representative Lilian Ortiz-Self (21st district). The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senator Jeannie Darneille (27th district). Senate Human Services chair Steve O’Ban (28th district) and House Judiciary chair Laurie Jinkins (27th district) played important roles in moving the bills through their committees.

“We are pleased that the Governor and legislature have taken this step to help these vulnerable children achieve stability and safety,” said Mary Van Cleve of Columbia Legal Services. “It is an encouraging reaffirmation of our state’s values.”

This change in policy will positively impact the lives of many young adult immigrants in Washington State. “I am so thankful for the law that they passed, which will help a lot of people like me who are alone in this country and feel defeated,” said a nineteen year-old young man and NWIRP client who survived child abuse and gang violence in his home country and fled to the United States. “I am very happy for this new protection.” He is now eligible for the expanded protection. For his privacy, the client asked to remain anonymous.

The signing today coincides with release of a Columbia Legal Services report on unaccompanied immigrant youth in Washington. The report, entitled Immigrant Youth in Crisis: Struggles of Unaccompanied Youth from Central America in Washington State, sheds light on gaps in Washington’s systems for protecting unaccompanied immigrant youth. HB1988 addresses one of several recommendations outlined in the report.