Request to NYS Court System To Cease Efforts To Weaken or Eliminate Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
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March 24, 2015
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
New York State Court of Appeals
20 Eagle Street
Albany, New York 12207
RE: Reguest to Cease Partisan Political Activities To Weaken Federal Statutory
Protections for Vulnerable Children Seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Dear Honorable Chief Judge Lippman:
We are attomeys who represent over 200 unaccompanied minors. We write to express
our deep concern over the New York State Court System’s involvement in partisan politics by
seeking to severely restrict or eliminate Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Pursuant to the Judicial Code of Conduct Section 100.5(A)(c), a sitting judge shall not
directly or indirectly engage in any political activity, except for “measures to improve the law,
the legal system or the administration of justice. ” Prohibited political activity includes “engaging
in any partisan political activity. ” Recently, the court system has on numerous occasions engaged
in partisan politics.
On March 4, 2015, NBC released an article detailing concems that members of the
Punjabi immigrant community brought fraudulent cases in the Queens County Family Court and
abused a remedy called “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, ” which was designed for immigrant
children who cannot be reunited with one or both of their parents due to abandomnent, neglect,
abuse or a similar basis. ‘
‘ See Family Court Exploited in Queens, Insiders Charge, _ NBC News New York, March 4, 2015,
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Despite no allegations of fraud outside of the Punjabi community, the Department of
Homeland Security (“DHS”) began an investigation into the Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Family
Courts. Incredulously, the New York State Court system has called for SIJ S to be severely
limited and/ or eliminated, a political call-to-arms which threatens the best interests of hundreds
of immigrant children who would be left without protection.
Speciﬁcally, on March 5, 2015, David Bookstaver, speaking on behalf of the Chief Judge
of New York State, Jonathan Lippman, reached out directly to federal Congressional ofﬁcials to
modify the federal law known regarding special immigrant juveniles by stating to NBC News
Reporter Melissa Russo that “We’re looking to the federal government to help us out and to
see if there is a way to close the loophole, ” referring to SIJ S as a “loophole” rather than a law
designed to protect children victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect?
On March 14, 2015, the New York Court System’s request was answered: Chairman of
the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Bob Goodlatte, told NBC News that he would
explore options of investigating the alleged conspiracy to commit fraud to obtain special
immigrant juveniles. Mr. Goodlatte stated that it was apparent that word had spread that it was
easy to game the system.3
On March 19, 2015, Mr. Goodlatte directed Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the U. S.
Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to “immediately direct the Fraud Detection and
National Security Directorate at USCIS to conduct a Beneﬁt Fraud Assessment of the current SIJ
program and to determine what steps can be taken to prevent fraud in the program? ”
Mr. Goodlatte also asked DHS Secretary Johnson “What, if any, statutory changes do you
suggest to give you additional tools to ensure that fraudulent SIJ S petitions are not approved by
USCIS adjudicators. ”
On July 17, 2014, Congressman Goodlatte introduced H. R. 5137, the “Asylum Reform
and Border Protection Act. ” HR 5137 would gut the current SIJ S status in place requiring that a
child demonstrate that reuniﬁcation with lJg_t_l_i parents is not viable to abuse, abandonment,
neglect, or a similar basis under State law. This would lead to mass deportations of children
given the federal government’s prioritization of the juvenile docket.5
3 See Family Court Asks Feds for help after I-team Uncovers Immigration Exploitation, NBC News New York,
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3 See Congressman Promises Fix After I-team Uncovers Family Court lmmigation Scheme, NBC News New York,
March 14, 2015, httpzf'www. nbcncwxrorkggprnjnygstjggitionsgiinmi-1rzitioji-schcn}_g_; qiicgrts-lamilv-coinburecg;
4 See, Goodlatte to Secregjy: Changes Needed To Reduce Fraud In lmmiggation System, March 19, 2015,
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5 See, Chaffetz And Goodlatte Introduce Bill To Stop Border Crisis, July 17. 2014
httpzxkoodlatte. ho_use.2ov-“press r‘eleascs. -"568
Family Court Judge John Hunt spoke on camera to NBC News reporter Melissa Russo
and made several comments that demonstrate he wants a change in federal legislation to make it
harder for children to obtain special immigrant juvenile status.
Judge Hunt said that the SIJ S process is “faulty” because “It’s a one sided proceeding.
There is no way to investigate it yourself. It makes us take what they say at face value. ” Judge
Hunt went on to express concern that the SIJS statute “could result in children flocking
here to get the benefit of it and at the same time expose themselves to danger and expose
themselves to criminal elements? “
Judge Hunt’s dehumanization of immigrant children, by comparing them to birds, and
resort to the political “ﬂoodgates argument” is improper. His statement shows that he is against
the underlying policy of SIJ S, not allegations of speciﬁc children or attomeys exploiting the
existing SIJ S statute.
In all cases in Family Court, the judge must rely heavily on swom testimony of parties
and witnesses. Judge Hunt’s complaint against the one-sided proceeding, because the cases are
often uncontested by the abandoning and/ or abusive parents, would seem to prefer that there be
an advocate against the children in Family Court. This runs counter to the Family Court’s
supreme duty to act in the best interests of the children.
Clearly, fraud is a very serious concem. Judges in Family Court, like all judges, have the
challenging tasks of assessing the credibility of litigants, through their testimony and demeanor.
In the Family Court context involving children, it is particularly difﬁcult because children often
cannot provide any documentary proof that they were abandoned or abused. For that reason, an
attomey for the child is often appointed, at times to perform a home investigation, look into the
veracity of the case, and confer privately with the child.
Mr. Bookstaver, the New York Court Spokesperson, stated that Hunt “hit the nail on the
head, we are not equipped to deal with this, ” referring to special immigrant juvenile cases.
Bookstaver went on to state that the “additional caseload” caused by SIJ S cases “does not belong
in family court. ”
The process of SIJ S is currently in place precisely because the Family Court is best
equipped to determine the best interests of a child, whether a child should be placed in a
guardianship or custody situation, and to make ﬁndings of abuse, abandonment or neglect. It is
precisely because DHS is not the proper adjudicator of such issues, that it relies on determination
of Family Court Judges who are specialized in dealing with such issues. The federal govemment
has no institutional expertise on child welfare issues. There is no federal family court, or federal
child protective services. The Family Court’s caseloads, which increased due to the increase of
children coming to the United States in 2014, do not eliminate their obligation to the children.
5 See Footnote 1, supra.
The New York State Family Court System has already concretely acted to weaken the
due process protections for children with undocumented individuals in the household based on
no evidence but hearsay to back its decision.
In a March 19, 2015 report from NBC News, the New York Court Spokesperson
responded to allegations that the some guardians and household members were not providing
sufﬁcient identiﬁcation to be ﬁngerprinted. Instead of clarifying that the ﬁngerprint process is
not required, by law, for Letters of Guardianship to be issued, the New York Court System stated
that although “we hoped to avoid turning away people who needed the court’s help. Now we
are aware that there may be a scam and we need to raise the bar. ”
As you may know, Section 205.56 of the administrative rules for New York Family Court
authorizes—but does not mandate—family court judges to order the probation service or other
disinterested person to conduct investigations to aid the Court in determining custody of minors
and appointing guardians of minors.7
The ﬁngerprinting procedure is part of the investigation as permitted by Section 205.56.
As most Family Court judges afﬁrmatively order investigations that include ﬁngerprinting of
household members. The refusal of the Family Court to ﬁngerprint members therein without
sufﬁcient identiﬁcation would act as an absolute bar for that child from access to the court and
would raise serious constitutional issues of due process and lack of access to justice based on
national origin and race.
Chief Judge Lippman and Family Court Judge Hunt have asked for and received
signiﬁcant changes in the adjudication of special immigrant juvenile-based guardianship and
custody petitions. Without any evidence of fraud, the court system is now actively cooperating
with DHS to allegedly investigate children committing fraud to obtain the protection of SIJ S.
The court system has not expressed any concem on whether its myopic focus on alleged
fraud could result in the exclusion of children who do in fact qualify for SIJS and do in fact need
desperately need it. We are unconditionally dedicated to maintaining the ethics of our profession
and have obtained SIJ S for hundreds of immigrant children, all of whom were neglected, abused
or abandoned and who desperately needed the protection of an adult caregiver.
7 See Section 205.56 of the New York Family Court Administrative Rules, Investigation by disinterested person, ‘
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We respectfully request that the New York State Court System cease its involvement in
partisan politics. The ofﬁcial statements made by representatives of the NYS Court System have
severely jeopardized SIJ S, the purpose of which is to protect vulnerable children in the United
States. Such activity is prohibited under the New York Rule of Judicial Conduct Section 100.5,
which is not designed to improve a law, but to move the govemment to repeal or several limit a
statute that beneﬁts children.
Thank you for your attention to this important and urgent request.
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
The Honorable Eric T. Schneiderrnan
Ofﬁce of the Attomey General
Albany, NY 12224
Bryan S. Jo son, sq.
Amoachi and John on, PLLC
1918 Union Boulevard
Bay Sho , NY 1 1706
Ala Amoachi, Esq.
Amoachi and Johnson, PLLC
1918 Union Boulevard
Bay Shore, NY 11706
NY State Commission on Judicial Conduct
61 Broadway, Suite 1200
New York, NY 10006