Washington D.C.’s New Vulnerable Youth Guardianship Protection Act Impact on Young Lives

October 30, 2023

A 20-year-old KIND client in Washington, DC has had to stand by for over a year with their future in doubt while their younger siblings, all under 18, received protection from deportation and were put on a path to receive work authorization. The DC Vulnerable Youth Guardianship Protection Emergency Amendment Act, which passed in July and went into effect on September 1, has changed this client’s life. KIND has now been able to move forward with their case and provide stability and relief to this young person, ensuring that they will be able to stay safely in the United States with their family and pursue their dreams. 

The Act establishes equal access to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for vulnerable youth between 18 and 21 years old by allowing them to have a guardian appointed by the DC Court until the age of 21.  SIJS is a humanitarian immigration benefit that provides a path to legal status for abused, abandoned, or neglected immigrant youth. With access to lawful status through SIJS, eligible young DC residents will be able to pursue higher education, qualify for certain federal benefits, seek employment in the District, and afford to live and remain active members of our community. 

Federal law allows youth up to age 21 to apply for SIJS but requires a local court order. Prior to the passage of this law, youth close to or over 18 were barred from being able to access vital court orders because they did not have an avenue to obtain the prerequisite court order unless they were under 18 or in other limited circumstances.  

The act extends DC Superior Court jurisdiction in a narrow way by adding new sections to DC law that will provide immigrant youth living in DC increased opportunities for stability and productivity by having an adult guardian in their lives and increase access to immigration relief through SIJS. The bill will: 

Create a new class of protected vulnerable youth for the purposes of guardianship proceedings by defining “vulnerable youth” as an unmarried noncitizen up to 21 years old;  

Give the Family Court Division of the DC Superior Court jurisdiction to appoint legal guardians for youth up to 21 years old who are not already in Child and Family Administrative Services custody without the need for ongoing supervision from city agencies or the participation of Office of the Attorney General attorneys; 

Align DC law with federal law to allow these youth to access SIJS; 

Promote stability, safety, and permanency for immigrant youth who have experienced trauma and hardship, without taking away any of the youth’s rights.  

Jessalyn Schwartz, senior attorney at KIND’s Washington D.C. office, who was instrumental in support for the law, said: 

This new path to SIJS relief has opened the door for a segment of the DC population that KIND’s DC office has previously had to turn away because, even though they did qualify under federal law, they had missed the opportunity to obtain necessary orders for us to seek SIJS on their behalf.  This law will also allow us additional time to work on cases of older youth without having to rush to file “age-out” cases before their 18th birthday and place demands on the DC Court’s time and resources.  

A permanent version of this bill is expected to pass in early 2024.  

Read more about the Vulnerable Youth Guardianship Protection Act here