The fact that child migrants come from dangerous places is not enough for them to be granted asylum here in the U.S. In order to gain permission to stay, migrant children must demonstrate that they face direct persecution because of an affiliation with a specific group. Children who do not fit into that category often apply for Special Immigrant Juveniles Status instead.
There is a growing political rift over whether unaccompanied migrant children should be deported immediately or care should be taken to grant asylum to those children who are eligible for it. There are two principal legal options available to children who wish to stay in the U.S. The most common means for children to gain permanent residency is to receive Special Immigrant Juveniles Status. The purpose of SIJS is to provide aid to children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, out of all unaccompanied minor children apprehended in 2011, 42 percent, or 2,588, might have been eligible for SIJ status. Out of that number, 758 applied for asylum and 1,449 applied for SIJS. This is a much smaller number than the current estimates that project that 90,000 unaccompanied children will try to enter the U.S. in 2014.
Immigration lawyers and judges say that the laws are frequently misinterpreted, difficult to understand and complex. In addition, factors outside the legal sphere affect these cases, including language barriers and the amount of financial and legal resources available to children who are seeking asylum. Lawyers with backgrounds in immigration cases could explain current laws and help individuals apply for asylum.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor, “Child migrants 101: What does it take to win US asylum? (+video)“, Gram Slattery, July 15, 2014