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Recinos v. Escobar

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

March 4, 2016

Liliana Maribel Rivera Recinos
v.
Maria Isabel Recinos Escobar

         Argued November 5, 2015

          Complaint in equity filed in the Middlesex Division of the Probate and Family Court Department on April 14, 2014.

         The case was heard by Patricia A. Gorman, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Elizabeth Badger for the plaintiff.

          Mary K. Ryan, Cynthia M. Guizzetti, & Mara O'Malley, for New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

         Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.

          OPINION

          [46 N.E.3d 62] Spina, J.

          In this case, we are asked to determine whether the Probate and Family Court Department has jurisdiction over youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one to make special findings that are necessary to apply for special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) (2012). Congress created the SIJ classification to permit immigrant children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of their parents to apply for lawful permanent residence while remaining in the United States. See id. ; 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (2009). " [C]hild" under the Federal statute is defined as an unmarried

Page 735

person under the age of twenty-one. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(b)(1). Before an immigrant child can apply for SIJ status, she must receive the following predicate findings from a " juvenile court" :[1] (1) she is dependent on the juvenile court; (2) her reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment; and (3) it is not in her best interests to return to her country of origin. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(i). Once these special findings are made, an application and supporting documents may be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency.[2] An application for SIJ status must be submitted before the immigrant's twenty-first birthday. 8 C.F.R. § 204.11.

         Liliana Recinos, the plaintiff, was a twenty year old,[3] unmarried immigrant attempting to apply for SIJ status. She filed a complaint in equity in April, 2014, in the Middlesex County Division of the Probate and Family Court Department. The plaintiff requested equitable and declaratory relief in the form of a decree of special findings and rulings of law concerning the findings necessary to apply for SIJ status. She also filed various motions, including a motion for special findings. A pretrial conference was held in January, 2015, at which the plaintiff submitted a stipulation signed by both herself and her mother, the defendant.[4] In March, 2015, a judge in the Probate and Family Court dismissed the complaint, explaining that the plaintiff was over the age of eighteen and that, therefore, the court did not have jurisdiction over her. The plaintiff filed a timely notice [46 N.E.3d 63] of appeal. At the plaintiff's request, the Appeals Court stayed the proceedings so that she could pursue an asylum application; however, in late September, 2015, her asylum application remained unadjudicated. The plaintiff informed the Appeals Court that she would like to pursue her appeal as expeditiously as possible because her twenty-first birthday would occur on December 5, 2015. We took this appeal on our own motion and expedited the proceedings to preserve the plaintiff's opportunity to apply for SIJ status. This court heard oral arguments on November 5, 2015.

Page 736

          The primary issue raised by the plaintiff on appeal is whether the Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction pursuant to its broad equity powers under G. L. c. 215, § 6, over immigrant youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one to entertain a request to make the necessary predicate special findings under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J). On November 9, 2015, we issued the following order to the Middlesex County Division of the Probate and Family Court Department:

" The judgment of the Probate and Family Court dated March 13, 2015, dismissing the plaintiff's complaint is reversed. The Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff's case, and the plaintiff is dependent on the court for these purposes. The court shall conduct proceedings forthwith on the plaintiff's complaint and shall act on her requests for relief expeditiously, such that, if the requested findings are made, she will have time to apply to the Federal authorities for special immigrant juvenile status before her twenty-first birthday on December 5, 2015. This order will serve as the rescript of this court for purposes of Mass. R. A. P. 1 (c), and shall issue to the trial court immediately. Opinion or opinions to follow. By the Court."

         This opinion states the reasons for that order.[5]

         1. Facts.

         The plaintiff was born on December 5, 1994, in El Salvador. In her complaint and affidavit, the plaintiff chronicles a childhood riddled with instances of physical and emotional abuse by her father. She also described her mother's failure to protect her and her siblings from their father's abuse and the chronic gang violence in their neighborhood. She came to the United States in 2012, at the age of seventeen, to escape the threats from her father and the gang violence that overwhelmed her neighborhood.[6] At first, she settled in the area of Baltimore, Maryland, with her brother. While residing in Maryland, she was assigned a volunteer attorney. For unexplained reasons, the attorney did not take any action in helping the plaintiff obtain the findings she now seeks from the Probate and Family Court. At the end of 2012, the plaintiff relocated to Massachusetts and moved in with a family

Page 737

friend with whom she still currently lives. While living in the United States, the plaintiff has had two children. Preliminarily, the plaintiff and her experiences seem to be of the type contemplated by the Federal statute.

         2. Special immigrant ...


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