Providing guidance on a number of procedural and substantive issues, the Supreme Court in Guardianship of Saul H. today made things easier for undocumented children to obtain from California courts those findings that are prerequisites under federal law to applying for immigration relief that creates a pathway to permanent resident status. The court interpreted what it called “the cooperative scheme Congress established for identifying immigrant children entitled to protection as special immigrant juveniles.”

Ruling in a case brought by a person who traveled alone to the United States from El Salvador when he was 16, the court, among other things, held a federally required finding that “reunification with 1 or both of the immigrant’s parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law” can be established by evidence of “a substantial risk that [the young person seeking the finding] would suffer serious harm as a result of his parents’ inability to protect him from gang violence while providing for his basic needs and education.”

The court’s opinion by Justice Joshua Groban concluded the state court findings required to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile status are not based on determining that “a child’s parents are blameworthy.” Superior courts should “[b]ear[ ] in mind the child-protective purpose of SIJ law and that the issuance of SIJ predicate findings to a child does not in any way restrict the rights of the child’s parent,” the court said.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye separately concurred, taking issue with the breadth of the court’s opinion. She said, “we need not reach all of the legal issues pertaining to SIJ proceedings that the majority opinion directly or obliquely addresses.” (Related: Chief Justice: the court narrows its opinions “because we realize we don’t need to speak so broadly.”)

The court reverses the Second District, Division One, Court of Appeal. Because of an impending deadline for the petitioner to apply to the federal government for SIJ status, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of making its opinion final in seven days and, instead of ordering further substantive proceedings in the lower courts, it ordered the Court of Appeal to direct the superior court to make the required SIJ findings.

Horvitz & Levy is pro bono appellate counsel for the petitioner. The court recruited Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland to serve as pro bono counsel in support of the Court of Appeal’s decision (see here) and the court’s opinion says, “We thank them for their service.”

[August 17 update: Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle — “California high court eases criteria for immigrant youth seeking legal status.” (I’m quoted in the article.)]