Blog Archive

United States immigration law allows certain immigrant children to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence (“green cards”) through a special visa category known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).

Children can qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)Eligibility Requirements for SIJS applicants:

  • Child is under 21 years old
  • Child is unmarried
  • Child lives in the U.S.
  • The child’s reunification with one or both parents is not possible due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment
  • It is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to his or her country of nationality
  • SIJS applicants do not have to prove lawful entry into the U.S. or current lawful status in the U.S.!

Even if your child is in removal proceedings, we can help!

Immigrant children may also apply for work authorization while their application is pending!


Download a printable SIJS Flyer.

The DREAM act, which stands for “Development, Relief and Educations for Alien Minors” is a piece of legislation that is designed to provide a path to citizenship for people who immigrated without documentation into the United States while they were minors. This act is designed to address a kind of blind spot within the consideration of larger and more broad immigration reforms. Since minors cannot be said to have had any role in their immigrating to the United States without documentation, it seems counterintuitive to hold them specifically accountable for their continued presence within the United States borders.

History of the DREAM Act

The DREAM act was first introduced to both houses of Congress in 2001 by Luis Guitiérrez, a representative from Illinois’ 4th district as the “Immigrant Children’s Educational Advancement and Dropout Prevention Act of 2001.” After being passed around between houses and changing titles, the bill failed to be passed. After this, the bill failed to gain traction while the Republican Party held control of Congress. During the Obama Administration, the bill was reintroduced to Congress again in 2010. Despite action to see the bill through on both sides of the aisle, the bill failed to pass once it got to the Senate, being defeated by a mere five votes.

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The DREAM act has been the subject of much debate and controversy over the better part of the last decade and a half. It was first introduced to Congress by Illinois representative Luis Gutiérrez in 2001, and has continued to float around both chambers and committees since then. The DREAM in DREAM act stands for “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors”. It is designed as a kind of compromise version of more comprehensive immigration reform initiatives. Instead of providing a blanket solution, it attempts to address the concerns of immigrant minors who are living in the United States without citizenship status through no fault of their own.

Therefore, a “DREAMer” is one such person. A minor – or a person who was a minor when they entered the country without documentation – that is currently residing in the United States and has yet to be naturalized. Of course, as far as the law is concerned, there are more than a few caveats that have been attached to such a broad distinction. These caveats are in place, in large part, as the result of the intense amount of debate and controversy that has surrounded this issue for some time.

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It is said that the United States is a land made up of immigrants, and looking at the current immigration statistics for the state of Maryland, this continues to be true. Maryland continues to be home to a very diverse community, which no doubt contributes to its vibrant culture. No doubt part of this vibrancy is due to the large population of immigrants that live within the state of Maryland. According to statistics provided by the Immigration Policy Center, as recently as 2011, 13.9% of the citizens of Maryland were born in a foreign country.

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In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform through federal legislation, states have had to take the matter of undocumented immigrants who entered the country while minors into their own hands. One of the first states to take up the issue was the state of California, which under their own version of the DREAM act provides such individuals with access to public and private higher education within the state. Other states have acted too, including Maryland, which enacted its own version of the DREAM act in 2012. Although the bill provides many of the same benefits as the federal legislation currently stalled in Congress, it is, as one might expect, much more limited in its applications and scope.

That being said, one of the most immediate effects of the Maryland DREAM act that has been seen is in the rise in graduation rates within the state. According to the Baltimore Sun, the state-wide graduation rate for the academic year ending in June 2013 rose nearly one percent from the year before to 84.97%. School officials in the state were quick to credit the Maryland DREAM act for the bump in the graduation rate. They pointed out that over that academic year the graduation rate for Hispanics in the state rose nearly 2.5% beating the average across the state in general.

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The DREAM act, as we know it today, was first introduced to Congress in 2001 by a representative from Illinois named Luis Gutiérrez. When he introduced the legislation, it received an intense amount of interest in Congress and was called “Immigrant Children’s Educational Advancement and Dropout Prevention Act of 2001”. The legislation was designed to address a fundamental problem facing undocumented children. Because of various standards and laws, those children are eligible to receive free public education until they reach the age of 18. However, once those children have come of age, there is a wide variety of legal and social challenges to pursuing higher education.

Undocumented children, for example, are ineligible to receive federal student financial aid, a damning blow when you consider the already exorbitant cost of higher education within the United States. In addition, these children are at risk to be deported from the United States, when many have little to no ties to their home countries after living and studying nearly their entire lives in the United States. Even if they are able to avoid deportation, they are legally prohibited from being employed within the United States. The legislation that Luis Gutiérrez brought before Congress in 2001 was designed to address some of these fundamental problems.

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The short answer is this: Yes.

In 2013, legislation was passed by Maryland’s legislature to allow illegal immigrants to obtain and keep driver’s licenses. This law repeals the 2009 requirement for proof of legal immigration status to obtain a Maryland driver’s license.

The bill is called the “Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013” and it was introduced to the legislature by Democratic Senator Victor Ramirez. It was instituted in part, as the name suggests, to make Maryland’s roadways safer. By allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, it would allow the DMV to administer tests, and also allow illegal immigrants to hold insurance for their automobiles.

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Immigration law is generally defined by federal law, but many times a relevant state law must be considered under the rules denied by federal law to determine immigration consequences. This can lead to confusion and frustration, when state laws do not match federal law rules. One such example, is the definition of conviction. Certain criminal convictions can carry immigration consequences, but, in Maryland, there are criminal dispositions other than just a simple “guilty” or “not guilty” . For example, such outcomes “probation before judgment”, a “nol pros”, or a “stet”, are common, but whether they count as convictions for immigration purposes may not be as clear.

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As of January 1, 2014, the State of Maryland via the MVA implemented a new process under the Real ID Act allowing immigrants who present foreign documentation without valid U.S. Citizenship and Immigration documentation to get a driver’s license (or a learner’s permit, or moped permit) or identification card.

To obtain a driver’s license or identification card, an applicant will be required to contact the IRS to obtain a taxpayer ID number, and file income taxes for the state of Maryland for the previous two years. Proof of filing can be obtained from the Maryland Comptroller’s Office. This will need to be presented in the form of a certification letter in order for the applicant to obtain an appointment. The applicant must also do the following:

  • Obtain valid identity documents, such as a foreign passport;
  • Obtain two documents that prove residence (for example, a copy of a lease agreement, a bank statement or a utility bill);
  • Study the State of Maryland’s Driver Manual and take the test tutorial online, in order to prepare for the actual knowledge test.

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Immigrants who have entered the U.S. unlawfully and who wish to apply for immigrant visas are not able to do so in the United States, and must travel abroad to apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

If they have accrued in excess of 180 days, or more than one year of unlawful presence in the U.S., they are then subject to an automatic three or ten year bar against re-entry, unless they submit and have approved a provisional unlawful presence waiver.

What is Changing?

As of March 4, 2013, visa applicants who are the children, spouses or parents of U.S. citizens are able to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver here in the U.S. before leaving the country in order to initiate the immigration visa process at a U.S. consulate or embassy.  This change will (hopefully) substantially shorten the amount of time that U.S. citizens will be forcibly separated from family members while those relatives are obtaining their immigrant visas abroad.

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