In this talk Raza will explore how protections for unaccompanied children are utilized in the criminalization of immigrants, through an examination of the humanitarian relief Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). This humanitarian remedy confers immigration relief to children who are unable to reunify with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. To be eligible for SIJS, a child must provide evidence that one or both of their parents were abusive, neglectful, or abandoned them. It must also be shown that it is not in their best interested to return to their home country. Through a discursive analysis of Central American SIJS cases Raza argues that the legal requirement to obtain SIJS ultimately reinforce the criminalization of immigrants, particularly parents, by framing them as unfit. Situating the speaker’s discussion in the concept of heteropatriarchy, Raza details how SIJS relies on a heteronormative nuclear family model that works to criminalize Central American migration and non-nuclear families under the guise of the best interest of the child standard. At the same time, the heteronormativity model not only works to criminalize but also advances the racialization process of Central Americans. Implications for the larger immigration enforcement regime and immigration reform are discussed.

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