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Established paternity is not necessary seeking special immigrant juvenile status. In re Mardin M.-I. 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 5754 (N.Y. App. Div. 2020)


In re Mardin M.-I. 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 5754 (N.Y. App. Div. 2020) is a guardianship case that is also related to seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS provides a pathway to lawful permanent residency, allowing children to live and work legally in the country. This status offers stability and security, granting access to various social services, educational opportunities, and employment prospects that would otherwise be unavailable to undocumented minors.

Moreover, SIJS shields children from deportation proceedings, offering them protection from removal to potentially dangerous or unstable situations in their home countries. It recognizes the vulnerabilities of immigrant children who may have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment, and provides a legal mechanism for them to remain in the U.S. under the care of a guardian.

Additionally, SIJS empowers children to reunite with family members or caregivers who can provide them with a safe and supportive environment. By enabling children to petition for SIJS, they are afforded the opportunity to establish permanent ties with responsible adults who can advocate for their well-being and best interests.

Furthermore, obtaining SIJS may open doors to broader immigration relief options in the future, such as eligibility for citizenship through naturalization. It represents a critical step towards achieving long-term stability and integration for immigrant children, ensuring they have the necessary legal protections and opportunities to thrive in their adopted homeland.

Background Facts
The mother filed a petition in December 2018, seeking guardianship of her child to facilitate a SIJS petition. The Family Court dismissed the petition and denied the motion, citing the lack of established paternity for the putative father.

The main issue is whether the dismissal of the guardianship petition due to unestablished paternity was justified, and whether the mother’s motion for SIJS-specific findings was premature.

The appellate court reversed the Family Court’s orders, reinstating the guardianship petition, appointing the mother as guardian, and granting the motion for SIJS-specific findings.

The Family Court erred in dismissing the guardianship petition solely based on unestablished paternity, as a natural parent can be appointed guardian regardless. Moreover, the denial of the motion for SIJS-specific findings was premature, as it disregarded the child’s best interests and eligibility criteria for SIJS.

The court’s decision to reverse the dismissal of the guardianship petition and grant the mother’s motion for specific findings enabling the child to petition for SIJS was driven by several key factors, primarily centered around the child’s best interests and the legal requirements for SIJS eligibility.

Firstly, the court emphasized the paramount importance of the child’s welfare in guardianship proceedings, as mandated by relevant statutes and legal precedents. The court underscored that the guardianship appointment should prioritize the child’s safety, stability, and overall well-being. In this case, appointing the mother as the child’s guardian was deemed in the child’s best interests, providing him with the care and support needed for his development and security.

Secondly, the court considered the legal criteria for SIJS eligibility outlined in federal statutes and regulations. It found that the child met the necessary qualifications for SIJS, including being unmarried, under 21 years of age, and dependent on a juvenile court. The court further determined that reunification with the father was not viable due to parental abandonment, a crucial factor in SIJS eligibility. By acknowledging the father’s inability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child, the court affirmed the necessity of alternative guardianship arrangements to ensure the child’s protection and well-being.

Additionally, the court evaluated the child’s best interests in the context of his immigration status and past experiences. It recognized the child’s vulnerability as an immigrant minor and the risks associated with returning to his previous country of nationality, Guatemala. Considering the child’s potential exposure to unsafe conditions or family instability in Guatemala, the court concluded that it would not be in his best interests to return to his homeland, reinforcing the importance of granting SIJS to safeguard his rights and security in the U.S.

The appellate court’s decision rectified the Family Court’s errors, ensuring the mother’s appointment as guardian and enabling the child’s pursuit of SIJS. This outcome aligns with the child’s best interests and legal entitlements under relevant statutes.

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