Ruling Upholds SIJS Protections

Since 2016, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has denied the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) petitions of some vulnerable, abused, abandoned, and neglected immigrant youth in New York. USCIS claimed that the New York Family Court Special Findings Orders (SFOs) issued to youth 18-20 years old did not satisfy the requirements for SIJS. USCIS also claimed that New York Family Courts did not have the jurisdiction to issue SFOs for youth between the ages of 18-21 years old because 1) the Family Courts did not have jurisdiction to make custody determinations and 2) the Family Courts must have authority to compel the reunification of a child with a parent when making a determination of whether reunification is viable. The Legal Aid Society, in partnership with Latham & Watkins, LLP, filed a federal class action law suit known as R.F.M. challenging this “Over-18 Denial Policy.”

On March 15, 2019, the Court issued an Opinion & Order in R.F.M. certifying the class and finding the Over-18 Denial Policy unlawful. R.F.M. v. Nielsen, No. 18-CV-5068, 2019 WL 1219425 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2019). Specifically, the Court found that USCIS acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it implemented its Over-18 Denial Policy because the policy went beyond the scope of the federal SIJS statute and lacked a reasoned explanation. Opinion at 47-54. The Court also ruled that USCIS’ policy was arbitrary and capricious because it exceeded the scope of its consent function and did not provide adequate notice of the policy change as required under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). Id. at 54-61. The Court also entered an Amended Judgment on May 31, 2019 which granted final declaratory and injunctive relief to R.F.M. Class Members. According to the government, there are over 6,600 members in the class.  

“This order is a huge step for our clients and others who were unlawfully and arbitrarily denied vital humanitarian status,” Beth Krause, supervising attorney of the Immigrant Youth Project at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. “Immigrant youth who reside in New York State and who survived abuse, abandonment, or neglect will now be put on a path towards securing a green card.”

The Latham & Watkins pro bono team was led by partner Robert Malionek. “We filed this lawsuit last year with the simple goal of enforcing the law on behalf of the most vulnerable of populations. Today, we are thrilled to have achieved that goal in full. Immigrant youth who have been mistreated or abandoned by a parent can now obtain the immigration status to which they are entitled,” Malionek said.

Learn More

Defending New York City's Immigrants

Each and every day, The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit stands with immigrant communities across New York City, fighting to protect their rights, keep families together and push back against the destructive policies coming out of Washington.

For our clients, the cost of filing immigration applications can be a heavy burden with governmental filing fees of hundreds of dollars. As the government threatens to make it risky to seek fee waivers, The Legal Aid Society is assisting our immigrant families with the payment of these fees, and is asking our most loyal supporters and friends to stand with us.

Your donation will have a direct impact, helping immigrant New Yorkers secure their status and remain at home with their families.


Immigration Law Unit Helpline: 1-844-955-3425

Open Monday-Friday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm




Adriene Holder

Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice

Whether we are addressing the current situation involving the separation of children from their families as they seek refuge or asylum from violence, or running to federal court to stay the imminent deportation of immigrants rounded up by ICE, The Legal Aid Society stands ready to fight on behalf of our immigrant client communities.

The President’s immigration policies represent racist and xenophobic practices that harken back to oppressive periods in our history when people of color lacked basic civil rights under the law.  

On this page, you will find out more about the work we are doing to protect our city's immigrants and just some of the ways you can help. We have been working on the front-lines of this fight since the first day of President Trump’s administration, and we will continue to go above and beyond for poor and powerless immigrants across our city.

I’m proud to work alongside our attorneys as we fight to defend the civil and human rights of our client communities, and correct the narrative. 


The latest on Immigration:

We will do our best to keep you updated as the legal battles wage on and share advocacy opportunities.  

ICE Defied A Court Order In Vendetta Against Deportee

Standing with Immigrants


The Legal Aid Society has a long-standing history of working with and advocating for New York City’s most marginalized communities. Due to increased violence in the Central American Northern Triangle and the increase of anti-immigrant and racist policies coming from the Trump administration, immigrant communities, particularly the Hispanic and Latinx families have been disproportionately impacted. The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit has been on the front lines responding to these emergent issues. The case stories below highlight how we have worked to fight for and defend at-risk individuals and families in the Hispanic and Latinx communities:

“Ms. B”

Garifuna women in Honduras. Photo: Felipe Canova | Flickr

Ms. B is a single mother with a young daughter who arrived in the United States in January 2017 after being threatened with gang violence and extortion by gang members in Honduras. Ms. B was specifically targeted because she is Garifuna, which is a marginalized ethnic group that is discriminated against in Honduras. As the only single Garifuna woman working and living in her town, Ms. B was subject to racial slurs and physical assault by gang members in retaliation for her refusal to pay extortion money. Within a few months of their arrival in the U.S., Ms. B and her daughter were referred to the Society for assistance by Central American Legal Assistance, she and LAS filed an asylum application in January 2018 on behalf of Ms. B and her daughter based on the danger they could face if they were forced to return to Honduras

Robert is a 19-year-old from El Salvador who came to the U.S. in December 2016 seeking asylum at the border based on gang violence. As he was 17 years old at the time, he was designated an unaccompanied minor and placed into ORR custody. 

After about a month in ORR custody, Robert was reunited with his mother and his older brother in the New York area. He attended ninth grade, went to all of his immigration court hearings, and began the process of applying for SIJS, a way for him to adjust to lawful permanent resident status based on the fact that he was abandoned by his biological father. 

Photo: Gregory P. Mango | New York Post

Without any notice or warning, ICE agents detained Robert in October 2017 and placed him into the Bergen County Jail pending his immigration court proceedings. LAS began representing Robert in January 2018 and immediately requested a bond hearing be scheduled for Robert's release. However, because DHS designated him as an arriving alien – a person who attempted to enter the U.S. at a port of entry without valid documents – the Immigration Judge found she had no jurisdiction to hold a bond hearing. Based on this decision, Robert's only option was to request parole from ICE. ICE denied Robert's request for parole, providing no reasoning for its decision. LAS appealed the denial of the parole request to the supervisor within ICE, but no response was ever received.

As Robert is a young man who suffered tremendously in detention for over six months without access to basic education or psychological support, all while being far away from his mother, LAS filed a habeas petition with the Southern District of New York requesting his release from custody. In June 2018, the Immigration Judge granted the habeas petition, finding that ICE's arrest in the absence of due process violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Administrative Procedure Act , and that Robert's detention without a due process determination violated the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and ordering Robert's immediate release.

Robert is now living with his mother, has a pending asylum application with USCIS, and will soon be filing his petition for SIJS. 


What It Means for Providers and Clients

The Trump Administration has proposed harmful new rules governing "public charge," a ground of inadmissibility that can be used to deny either admission to the U.S. or adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident status ("LPR" or "green card" status), where the application is based on certain family relationships.

Family Separation

What You Need To Know About The Executive Order

Although the President signed an Executive Order seemingly retreating from his inhumane and cruel policy of separating immigrant families seeking asylum, his actions have in fact further entrenched his war on immigrants. 

The Executive Order attempts to overrule a federal settlement, Flores v. Reno, that barred the detention of immigrant children at the border for more than 20 days.  The President is trying to legalize the indefinite detention of children in detention facilities with their families – furthering the criminalization and incarceration of immigrant families.  In addition, there is no mechanism to reunite the thousands of separated children with their parents.  

We are already representing one of these children, who was arbitrarily transferred to New York, and are in discussions about how best to identify other children being placed in various facilities and reunite them with their families.  We will also be representing potential New York City sponsors for these children whose parents cannot be found, are incarcerated, or have already been deported. 


What You Can Do To Help

As a member of the New York Immigration Coalition, The Legal Aid Society is working alongside our community partners to mobilize a united rapid legal response effort to help those in need. You can join us as we make a difference. Read below to see just some of the ways you can support our work:

Sign a Petition

Define American: Stop Separating Mothers from Their Children
Moms Rising: Stop Separating Children from Their Parents
National Domestic Workers Alliance: Families Belong Together
United We Dream: Justice For Claudia
Women's March: End Family Separation
Women's Refugee Commission: Keep Families Together

Call Your Representative

Call Your Senator
Call Your Congressperson

Volunteer Opportunities

CARA Pro Bono Project
Powered by the American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association


Our Impact

Our Immigration Law Unit is the largest of its type in the nation, creating stability in families and communities by helping immigrants across our city. Since day one of President Trump’s administration, we have worked tirelessly to defend New York City’s immigrant communities, offering educational outreach sessions, protecting individuals from deportation, and advocating against the President’s most onerous policies.


When President Trump signed his first unlawful Travel Ban, our staff descended on John F. Kennedy International Airport, working around the clock to protect New Yorkers from being wrongfully deported. We fought back against this cruel and unlawful policy to ensure that no one was denied their constitutional rights. Watch this video showing just how we won the release of every New Yorker detained on that night.

We worked alongside our law firm partners to help more than 50 applicants re-apply before their time ran out. With the future of DACA still in question, we stand ready to defend the rights of these children.

We worked alongside our law firm partners to help more than 50 applicants re-apply before their time ran out. With the future of DACA still in question, we stand ready to defend the rights of these children.

President Trump continued to disrupt the lives of vulnerable New Yorkers earlier this year when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. With thousands of young New Yorkers relying on DACA to protect themselves from deportation, entire communities were left at-risk.

Emboldened by the new administration, ICE agents are pursuing undocumented New Yorkers more aggressively than ever before. This year, ICE has been spotted dozens of times in and around courthouses, targeting immigrants as they testify or seek justice.

Time and again we protested this outrageous practice and are fighting to keep ICE out of the courthouse.

Time and again we protested this outrageous practice and are fighting to keep ICE out of the courthouse.


Every day, across every borough, we defend immigrants from deportation. We keep families together and
ensure that every New Yorker has access to equal justice. You can support our work and make a difference today.
Donate now and join our fight for New York City's immigrants.