In In re LFOC, No. 334870, the Court of Appeals held that although ultimate determinations of alienage are the federal government’s to make, state juvenile courts have the authority to make relevant factual findings related to a child’s status as a special immigrant juvenile (“SIJ”), and those findings can subsequently be used in the child’s petition for SIJ status with the federal government.
The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court that the court is “not supposed to pay attention to [alienage].” The statutory and regulatory scheme for obtaining SIJ status created a “unique hybrid procedure” between the federal and state governments: state courts with jurisdiction over the custody and care of juveniles have the authority to make initial factual findings which are then submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for consideration in the SIJ process. These state courts, due to their institutional competence, can make findings related to abuse, neglect, and abandonment of the child, the best interests of the child, and safe and appropriate custodial arrangements, which are then considered by the federal government in the SIJ application process; the state courts cannot, however, analyze or decide the ultimate immigration issue.
Because the trial court stated that it did not have the authority to make these determinations; the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court so it could make these findings. The Court of Appeals declined to make these findings itself, holding that the trial court was better suited for initial factual findings.