In Georgia, child advocates are suing the state’s child welfare agency in federal court because it refuses to pay for the specialized legal services that some undocumented youth and young adults would need to fully protect their foster care benefits.
While most undocumented children who enter Georgia foster care are reunited with family, some suffer abuse or abandonment so severe that Georgia’s juvenile courts and the Division of Family and Children Services agree it would be against their best interests to reunify them with family or return them to their country of origin.
These are the ones whose inability to obtain a special visa puts them at risk of being unable to work or go to school and leaves them no way to obtain permanent residency in the U.S., according to Atlanta law firm Taylor English Duma. The firm announced the filing of a class action on Monday, saying that the state child welfare agency has an obligation to hire lawyers to obtain the special visa for these children. In addition, such undocumented youth are also at risk of losing their right to extended foster care benefits at age 18 that they would otherwise be entitled to if they had the “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” visa.
“Having removed these children from their parents and having determined they cannot be returned to their family or country of origin, the State of Georgia must take responsibility for these young people in its custody,” said Taylor English’s Tom Rawlings in a statement. “These undocumented children are as much Georgia’s responsibility as any other young person in foster care, and the State has no good reason to deny these benefits solely on the basis of immigration status.”
Rawlings is a former director of the Georgia Division of Children and Family Services.
If the two named plaintiffs are certified by the federal court to represent other, similarly situated individuals, the case could proceed as a class action, and the outcome would affect those people as well.