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International adoptions can be difficult under American immigration law. There is a substantial workup necessary to qualify a US citizen as an adopting parent. There is also the need to make sure that an international adoption will be approved by the law of the country where the child lives. There are many technical rules and a misstep can spell disaster.

International adoption problems can be avoided if the foreign citizen child is in the United States, and meets the profile for "special immigrant juvenile status." (SIJS). A child or unemancipated juvenile under 21 years of age may qualify as a special immigrant juvenile, eligible to apply for green card, if he or she has a sponsoring adult custodian in the United States, and if there is proof that he or she was neglected, abused, or abandoned by one or both parents in the home country.

I recently had a case involving a six-year-old Chilean boy who had been abandoned by his father because his birth was the result of an extramarital affair. The boy was also badly abused and neglected by his mother, who lost custody after Chilean child protective services intervened. When the boy's elderly aunt in America learned of his existence, she initiated legal proceedings in Chile to acquire custody of the boy herself rather than see him cast adrift in the Chilean foster parent system. Although the Chilean courts awarded her custody, they would not allow her to formally adopt the boy because she was "too old."

The solution we found was to have her obtain permission to bring the boy to the United States under a visitor visa, and then apply for a custody order before New Jersey family court willing to make the necessary factual findings that the boy was the victim of abandonment, neglect, and abuse. We obtained the order, and the path should be clear for this young person to become a permanent resident of the United States. I do recommend that in any situation where there is overseas mistreatment of a child, serious consideration be given to bringing the child here and applying for a green card for the child as a "special immigrant juvenile."

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