Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act to fix the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) program for immigrant children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents or guardians and have faced horrific conditions in their home countries. Congress established the SIJS program in 1990 to protect these youth from additional harm, but in recent years, visa backlogs have prevented the program from keeping these children safe.
Despite being a humanitarian visa, the pathway to a green card for SIJS children runs through the employment-based immigration visa system, subjecting SIJS recipients to annual worldwide and country-specific quotas. This legislation would exempt SIJS children from annual employment-based visa caps, ending years-long case backlogs and allowing these children to move forward with their lives as lawful permanent residents of the United States. U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.-34) has previously introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“For decades, vulnerable immigrant children who have experienced violence and abuse have been able to get permanent resident status to avoid further harm, but visa backlogs are keeping too many in limbo,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will help these immigrant youth facing extreme circumstances to become legal residents so they can have the protection and opportunities they deserve.”
While the Biden Administration has taken welcome steps to protect immigrant children from deportation, SIJS recipients must still wait years for a visa to become available. Currently, more than 44,000 children with SIJS are in limbo, waiting to receive a green card.
The legislation is endorsed by more than 100 advocacy and legal organizations, including the American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Center for Law and Social Policy, Church World Service, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Immigration Center for Women and Children, End SIJS Backlog Coalition, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), National Immigrant Justice Center, Nevada Immigrant Coalition, Refugees International, Tahirih Justice Center, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, United We Dream, The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
The first and only Latina Senator, Senator Cortez Masto has consistently supported immigrant communities in Nevada, calling on the administration to take action to protect TPS holders and other immigrants, as well as leading commonsense legislation to fix our broken immigration system. She has worked to pass meaningful immigration reform that balances critical border security measures with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, and essential workers, and she’s pushed legislation to allow Dreamers and TPS holders to work in Congress.