Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2018

Abstract

Immigration advocates have long noted how ethical challenges pervade certain areas of their practice, particularly in the employment and spousal contexts. A significant body of literature exists that attempts to identify clear, professional norms for grappling successfully with thorny ethical questions inherent in those areas. This article expands that scholarship by studying the ethics issues that arise for counsel representing youth seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile ("SIJ") status in state court. Using SIJ case studies to explore questions of confidentiality, conflicts, and candor, this article uncovers key factors that complicate practitioners' ability to comply with existing ethical mandates. One defining feature of SIJ relief is the requirement that separate proceedings be brought in state court as the first step in establishing youth's eligibility for relief. Other distinguishing factors include the effects of abandonment, abuse, and neglect on the SIJ youth. In addition, the decision-making capacity of SIJ minors is subject to scrutiny under the relevant ethics rules due to their age. These factors combine with a systemic lack of resources to pressure SIJ advocates into unworkable attorney-client relationships rife with conflicts of interests. This project confirms that SIJ practitioners receive inadequate guidance from existing rules of professional conduct and proposes practical reforms of the state court SIJ process, as well as new trainings on implementation of core ethics rules in the SIJ representation. The article concludes with an invitation for further study of these proposals as a critical step in offering long-overdue relief to SIJ counsel.

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