“Best” Interests and “Bad” Parents: Immigration and Child Welfare Through the Lens of SIJS and Foster Care

By ELLYN JAMESON • 168 U. Pa. L. Rev. 513 (2020)
January 2020

At first glance, the immigration system and the domestic child welfare system may appear to be worlds apart, but in fact they have much in common and often overlap. This Comment offers a targeted look at a particular process within the U.S. immigration system, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and how it intersects with and parallels the domestic foster care system. Both SIJS and foster care struggle to meet the competing goals of preserving and reuniting families on the one hand and punishing “undesirable” families on the other. The tendency of these systems to see families in terms of innocent children against “bad” parents, and the ability of our society to tolerate systems that punish parents in this way, is part of a long history of discrimination in this country, particularly against poor families of color. This comparison between SIJS and the domestic foster care system will highlight some of the underlying assumptions that make both processes so harsh for the families involved and discuss how the apparent tensions between the two systems are actually rooted in the same harmful normative ideas.

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