Big blow for children of Caribbean migrants

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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WASHINGTON, DC, USA (CMC) — The United States Supreme Court has ruled that children of Caribbean immigrants who lost their places in the slow-moving immigration system because they turned 21 before their parents received their immigrant visa could not be given special priority.

"Whatever Congress might have meant, it failed to speak clearly," wrote Justice Elena Kagan for the majority in the 5-4 decision on Monday, referring to the 2002 law that permits "aged-out" children to hold on to their child status, or their initial "priority date" for consideration in the immigration system after they turn 21.

"The two faces of the statute do not easily cohere with each other," she added in her 33-page opinion.

Justice Kagan also wrote that an administrative immigration tribunal's 2008 interpretation of the 2002 law "benefits from administrative simplicity and fits with immigration law's basic first-come, first-served rule".

By contrast, she said the solutions suggested by the immigrants who were respondents in the case "would scramble the priority order (US) Congress established, by permitting "aged-out" children to be considered ahead of other would-be immigrants on the path to citizenship.

"We still see no way to apply the concept of automatic conversion to the respondents' children and others like them," wrote Justice Kagan, adding that courts had to defer "to the board's (immigration) expert judgement about which interpretation fits best with, and makes most sense of, the statutory scheme".

The decision could affect untold numbers of young immigrants across the country, including the children of New York City teachers recruited to fill classroom vacancies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who have "aged out" of the immigration system, according to the New York Times.

The case at hand involved Rosalina Cuellar de Osorio, who migrated from El Salvador in 1998 with her 13-year-old son. After years of waiting, her son turned 21. The administrative tribunal ruled that when he turned 21, he lost his place in the line for permanent residence and would have to start over.

The family challenged the tribunal's decision in US Federal District Court and lost.

When the case was heard by the full United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, California, it reversed the decision.

The Appeals Court said that the 2002 law provided that children listed on their parents' green card applications would automatically be converted to another category when they turned 21. The Obama Administration appealed the decision.

Alina Das, a co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University, said "aged-out" children of immigrants would "continue to be in limbo, waiting for leadership from the administration and Congress to make sure that they're back on a path to citizenship.

Meanwhile, a nationwide poll published yesterday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, non-partisan research groups here, said that while 62 per cent of Americans favour a path to citizenship for Caribbean and other immigrants living in the United States illegally, Republican voters are sharply split on the issue going into the November elections.

The polls revealed "political shoals" House Republican leaders have to navigate as they decide whether to hold votes on legislation this year or put off the contentious issue at least until after November.




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