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Guardianship of Penate v. Lopez

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

June 9, 2017

GUARDIANSHIP OF YOSSELIN GUADALUPE PENATE.
v.
MANUEL MORALES LOPEZ & another.[2] DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE

          Heard: January 6, 2017.

         A motion for special findings of fact was heard by Virginia M. Ward, J.

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

         Complaint to establish paternity filed in the Suffolk Division of the Probate and Family Court Department on November 25, 2014.

         A motion for special findings of fact was heard by Virginia M. Ward, J.

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

          Valquiria C. Ribeiro for Marvin H. Penate.

          Jennifer B. Luz (Joshua M. Daniels also present) for E.G.

          Elizabeth Badger for Kids in Need of Defense & others, amici curiae.

          Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, William C. Peachey, Erez Reuveni, & Joseph A. Darrow, of the District of Columbia, for the United States.

          Mary K. Ryan & Meghan S. Stubblebine for American Immigration Lawyers Association, New England Chapter, & others.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          HINES, J.

         In these appeals brought by E.G., an eight year old undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, and Yosselin Guadalupe Penate, a nineteen year old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, we consider for the second time[3] the statutorily mandated role of the Probate and Family Court (and the Juvenile Court) in a juvenile's application for special immigrant juvenile status (SIJ) under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) (2012). Congress established the SIJ status classification "to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrant children, " Recinos v. Escobar, 473 Mass. 734, 737 (2016), who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. The issue presented in these appeals is whether a judge may decline to make special findings based on an assessment of the likely merits of the movant's application for SIJ status or on the movant's motivation for seeking SIJ status. The judge implicitly determined that neither child would be entitled to SIJ status based on her interpretation of the statute and declined to make special findings. This was error.

         We now clarify the role of the judge with respect to a juvenile's motion for special findings necessary to apply for SIJ status under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J). Because immigration status is a matter solely within Federal jurisdiction, the merits of a juvenile's application for SIJ status will be determined in immigration proceedings in accordance with Federal law. See Recinos, 473 Mass. at 738. Under the statute, the judge's sole function is to make the special findings, and to do so in a fashion that does not limit Federal authorities in determining the merits of the juvenile's application for SIJ status. Therefore, we conclude that on a motion for special findings, the judge shall make such findings without regard to the ultimate merits or purpose of the juvenile's application. To avoid any unnecessary entanglement in interpreting whether SIJ status requires a showing of neglect or abandonment by one or both parents, we also conclude that the judge shall make special findings only as to the parent named in the motion.[4]

         Background.[5]

         1. Yosselin Penate.

         Yosselin[6] was born in 1997 in El Salvador to Marleny D. Penate-Velasquez. The father abandoned Marleny before Yosselin was born, and is not listed on her birth certificate. Yosselin has never had any contact with her father and does not know his identity. Until her teenage years, Yosselin lived in a small house with her mother, grandfather, uncle, three brothers, and two cousins. Of the adults living in the household, only Yosselin's uncle was employed. Having his own children to provide for, the uncle's income was rarely sufficient to cover food and clothing for Yosselin and her siblings.

         Because her mother was unemployed, Yosselin did not have access to medical treatment. At age fourteen, Yosselin took a job to help with family expenses. While working, Yosselin continued to attend school, but her job responsibilities frequently prevented her from completing her homework. Although she added to the family's income, Yosselin's living conditions remained poor. In 2013, when Yosselin was fifteen years of age, she began receiving death threats from a local gang. The gang demanded that she either join the gang or be killed. Because Marleny was unable to properly provide financial resources for Yosselin or protect her from the gang, Marleny determined that it would be best for the family if Yosselin left for the United States to live with her uncle, Marleny's brother, Marvin H. Penate, who lives in Massachusetts. In accordance with her mother's wishes, Yosselin traveled to the United States and has lived with Marvin in Revere since that time. Since her arrival in the United States, Yosselin has had access to proper medical care, is enrolled in school, and has adequate food and clothing. Although Yosselin remains in contact with her mother in El Salvador, she wishes to continue living with Marvin in the United States.

         In September, 2015, when Yosselin was seventeen years of age, Marvin filed a petition in the Probate and Family Court seeking guardianship of her, and she then filed a motion seeking the requisite special findings for SIJ status. In her motion for special findings, Yosselin asserted that she was dependent on the Probate and Family Court, that reunification with her mother was not viable due to neglect, and that return to El Salvador was not in her best interests.[7] Following a short hearing, the Probate and Family Court judge issued a written decision, dismissing the guardianship petition and declining to make special findings as to the first and third prongs. With respect to the second prong, the judge stated, "The sole problem here is that [Yosselin] must find a legal way to re-enter this country if in fact she is deported. This [c]ourt does not find that 'reunification with one or both of the ...


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