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Recent years have seen a nearly 500 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied young immigrants, fleeing abuse in their home country, seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile status after settling in the United States. (Adobe Stock)

New MN law expands Immigration protections for at-risk youth


MINNEAPOLIS (PNS)—Minnesota has joined several states in raising the age limit for young immigrants who have escaped trauma to receive legal protections in the United States.

This week, Gov, Tim Walz signed a bill increasing the age limit from 18 to 21 to seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, aligning Minnesota law with federal statute. The process allows young people who left their home coun- try unaccompanied, fleeing an abusive situation, to secure judicial guardianship at the state level. They then apply for the federal SIJ status, with a path toward citizenship.

State Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, led the efforts through the House.

"It confronts this issue on a regular basis with young people who realize that their immigration is an issue later in their teens and then, are up against that deadline of their 18th birthday," she said.

When the state age cutoff is below the federal threshold, the teen faces deportation. Feist, who also is an immi- gration attorney, said that puts them back into a traumatic situation. She added that this affects roughly 70 people a year in the state. The bill had broad bipartisan support, although the 
federal component is under scrutiny over case backlogs.

Despite those issues, Minnesota advocates have said relief at the state level still is important. Veena Iyer, executive director of the 
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said not only is there more stability for these youth, it benefits their communities as well.

"We're talking about folks who have come here as young people," she said, "many of whom end up finishing high school getting their GED in the United States—and then are such an important part of the labor force."

She said that's especially helpful for rural Minnesota, where there are challenges in finding skilled labor. Immigration experts who track these policies say nearly a dozen other states have taken similar action.

Opening statements in appeal to DACA

MINNEAPOLIS (PNS)—The fate of more than 600,000 so-called "dreamers" hangs in the balance as opening statements are heard today in a case that could make or break the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The Justice Department is appealing a decision last summer that declared DACA illegal. Now the three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit in New Orleans will decide whether to uphold or reject that summary judgment or order a full trial.

Attorney Nina Perales. vice president for litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said the state of Texas, which sued to block DACA, should not have standing to sue because it cannot prove the state has been harmed.

"Texas has not been able to point to any employers that Texas says hired a DACA recipient instead of a U.S. citizen," she said. "Texas was never able to identify a dollar of state money that went to a DACA recipient."

The state of Texas has argued that DACA takes jobs away from legal U.S. residents, and that it costs the state money in the form of social services.

Gaby Pacheco, an advocate with TheDream.US, said the average age of arrival for DACA participants is seven, and most have lived in the United States for more than 20 years.

"Ninety-nine percent of them have graduated from high school," she said. "More than 90 percent of them are recipients that are working including more than 340,000 workers deemed essential, including nurses, educators and those who kept food on our tables during the pandemic."

Current DACA participants now are allowed to stay and renew their work permits, but no new applications are being processed. Congress has been unable to forge a consensus on immigration reform or a path to citizenship for dreamers. Perales noted that the Biden administration is expected to release a new regulation related to DACA, possibly in August.

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