The immigration system can be notoriously difficult to navigate, especially for unaccompanied children entering the United States. What happens if a child was neglected, abandoned, or abused before the age of eighteen but does not cannot secure help until after he turns eighteen? In the past, this child was out of luck. Minnesota, however, has responded to this dilemma. Now this child could still have a pathway towards lawful permanent residency through guardianship before a Minnesota state court and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
New Minnesota Statute § 257D.01 defining the type of “at-risk juvenile” who could qualify for guardianship and, later, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. To qualify as an “at-risk juvenile,” a child must prove that:
- He was abandoned, abused, neglected, or suffered similar treatment by one or both parents at least six months before turning eighteen;
- He is unmarried and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one;
- A guardian, who could be a friend, family member, parent, or similar individual is willing and able to care for the child in the United States; and,
- It is in the child’s best interests to remain in the United States with the guardian rather than returning to his home country and reuniting with his parents.
When filing a petition for guardianship, the “at-risk juvenile” and guardian must generally provide notice of the petition to the “at-risk juvenile’s” biological parents. See Minn. Stat. § 257D.06. This notice must be “reasonably calculated” to advise the parents of the guardianship proceedings at least fourteen days before the hearing date. Id. This notice may be provided many different ways, including via email, Whatsapp, text message, or regular mail. The court can waive the notice requirement if the “at-risk juvenile” does not know who his parents are, where his parents live, or “for any other reason that the court may deem appropriate.” See Minn. Stat. § 257D.06.
The “at-risk juvenile” and guardian must attend a court hearing to complete the guardianship process. Hearings may take place electronically via Zoom or in person at the courthouse, depending on the county. During the hearing, the judge (and the attorney, if the “at-risk juvenile” and guardian have one) can ask the “at-risk juvenile”, guardian, or both questions about the petition to make a decision.
If the petition is granted, the guardian essentially agrees to care for the “at-risk juvenile” as if she were his mother and father until he reaches the age of twenty-one. The guardian specifically agrees to ensure that the “at-risk juvenile” receives food, shelter, and access to medical, educational, and other important services.
After a guardianship petition is granted, the “at-risk juvenile” may wish to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile status before USCIS to begin working towards permanent residency in the United States. If you have any questions about applying for guardianship in Minnesota, please contact Wilson Law Group to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.
 If you believe you or a child you know could qualify for this relief but the child does not live in Minnesota, Wilson Law Group recommends that you speak to a family or immigration law attorney in the state where the child lives. Statutes and eligibility vary by state.