Monday, November 07, 2011

Immigration: A break for foster kids

Immigration: A break for foster kids
San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 4, 2011.

Youngsters who are brought to the United States illegally, and mistreated after they arrive, have gotten a boost from a federal appeals court in fighting deportation orders as adults.

The ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco involves undocumented youths who are placed in long-term foster care because of abuse or neglect, based on a judge’s findings that it would be harmful to return them to their home country. That classification, which allows the youngster to qualify for legal residency, was granted to about 1,500 youths nationwide last year, said attorney Kristen Jackson of the nonprofit Public Counsel, which represented the immigrant in this week’s case.

Her client, Jorge Raul Garcia, had been granted legal status as a teenager in 2000 but was deported to Mexico eight years later after being convicted of two minor thefts in the Los Angeles area. The ruling allows him to return and seek to regain legal residency.

The court said Garcia had a tragic childhood in Mexico — his father was convicted of murdering his mother, and during his youth he suffered an injury that left him brain-damaged. He entered the United States illegally in 1992 at age 8. The court didn’t say who brought him, and Jackson, who is handling his appeal, said she doesn’t know. A year later, Los Angeles County authorities said Garcia had been a victim of severe physical abuse where he was staying, and he was declared a dependent of the court in 1994 and placed in long-term foster care. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and diabetes and attended special education classes in school.

The county also applied to immigration officials for legal residency for Garcia in 1994, but it wasn’t granted for more than five years, a delay that the court said may have been due to a missing birth certificate. He left the foster care program in 2004, at age 20, and a year later was convicted of stealing a bicycle in Long Beach and of shoplifting in Manhattan Beach. After he served jail sentences for both crimes, immigration authorities began deportation proceedings.

Deportation would have been mandatory after a serious felony conviction, but non-citizen legal residents convicted of lesser charges can apply for an exemption if they were “admitted” to the United States at least seven years earlier and have lived here ever since. Immigration courts decided that Garcia had been admitted to the U.S. in 2000, when he was granted legal status, leading to his deportation in mid-2008 because his convictions took place less than seven year later. But on Wednesday, the appeals court said federal law recognizes the long-term foster care program for undocumented immigrants, in which Garcia was placed in 1994, as a type of admission into the United States.

The law’s eligibility requirements show “a congressional intent to assist a limited group of abused children to remain safely in the country with a means to apply” for legal residency, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. Those in Garcia’s category “should not be wrenched away without adequate (legal) process,” the judges said.

It’s the first federal court ruling to address the issue, said Jackson, Garcia’s lawyer. Interested readers can view it at www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/11/02/08-73004.pdf

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