Vt. Supreme Court rules on juvenile immigration case

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that the state's courts do have a role to play when it comes to the status of immigrant juveniles living in the country.

The case involves a mother and her four children from Angola who are undocumented immigrants living in Vermont. She argued that the children's father, who is believed to be living in Angola, had abandoned the children. In addition to asking the lower court for legal custody, she also asked the judge to make a special finding that would allow the children to apply for "Special Immigrant Juvenile" status. The SIJ classification for children abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent can lead to citizenship.

The lower court concluded that it lacked authority to make SIJ findings.

On appeal, the mother argued that because the government seeks to return the children to Angola, there is nothing abstract about evaluating whether it would be in their best interests to return there.

The Vermont Supreme Court agreed. In their ruling Tuesday, the justices sent the case back to the lower court. They concluded that while it is the job of federal immigration officials to decide on SIJ status, it does fall within the court's jurisdiction to make a determination if SIJ promotes a child's best interests. "...This is consistent with the broad authority of our trial courts in these matters and it serves the goal of the Vermont Legislature and Congress to "protect abused, neglected, or abandoned children," said the ruling.

The court made an expedited decision because the oldest child turns 18 in July.