MD court grants guardianship application for brother in juvenile immigration case

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“JJ testified that he could not live with his mother or father in Guatemala and feared gang violence if he were to return to his home country,” Judge Gregory Wells wrote in the notice. (daily record/photo file)

A Maryland man has won his petition for guardianship over his 20-year-old brother, a step that will allow the young man to apply for permanent residency in the United States instead of returning to his home country of Guatemala.

Maryland’s Special Court of Appeals ruled last week that the older man, Jose Ignacio Duenas-Jimenez, can obtain guardianship of his brother, who is identified in court records only as JJ, and that JJ can receive “Special Immigration Juvenile” status.

The status, which can be granted to a single person under the age of 21, means Duenas-Jimenez can apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow JJ to stay in the country. as a permanent resident.

The Special Court of Appeals overturned a decision by a Prince George’s County circuit judge, who had denied Duenas-Jimenez guardianship of her brother and declined to find that JJ had special juvenile immigration status.

JJ and his older brother, who is in his 20s, both testified at a hearing on the motion in August 2021, according to the appeals court opinion and other court filings. Testimony revealed that JJ, who was born in Guatemala, had to do agricultural work from the age of 8 to support himself because his mother was unable to support him financially.

He twice suffered serious injuries doing this job and was unable to attend school regularly because he had to work for basic necessities, Judge Gregory Wells wrote in the notice.

Local gangs had threatened to kill the boy if he did not pay the protection money, Duenas-Jimenez told the hearing. JJ also had no relationship with his father until he was 14 and never received any financial support.

JJ came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor in 2018, according to the notice, and was released to the care of his brother by USCIS.

“JJ testified that he could not live with his mother or father in Guatemala and feared gang violence if he were to return to his home country,” Wells wrote in the notice.

Although USCIS gave no sign that he was unhappy with Duenas-Jimenez’s care for his brother, Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Robin D. Gill Bright denied the petition for guardianship, citing his concerns about whether Duenas-Jimenez was “clean and fit to care for the Minor Child.”

Bright pointed to the fact that Duenas-Jimenez failed to enroll her younger brother in high school or provide adequate medical care, Wells wrote in the Court of Special Appeals opinion.

Wells overturned Bright’s decision, finding that JJ’s parents had “neglected” or “abandoned” him under the definitions required for special juvenile immigration status. Both parents also signed affidavits stating that Duenas-Jimenez should become JJ’s guardian.

Wells noted that while Duenas-Jimenez could not provide details about JJ’s schooling or medical care, the older man had made efforts to care for his younger brother, including working more so he could support JJ financially.

“Mr. Duenas-Jimenez has had JJ in his custody since 2018 when JJ was released to his custody by U.S. immigration officials,” Wells wrote. “The record reveals that JJ lived with Mr. Duenas -Jimenez, who acted as JJ’s guardian, providing him with all the necessities – food, clothing and shelter.”

The Special Court of Appeal returned the case to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court so that the petition for guardianship could be granted and the SIJ’s findings documented.

Duenas-Jimenez’ lawyer, Leonel Vasquez, declined to comment as the case is still ongoing.

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