MANSFIELD

Marsha Mansfield: "We also should work towards assuring universal representation for all child migrants to make sure that all of our children are safe and secure."

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

For the fifth year, Cap Times reporters asked several Madisonians to share their "bright ideas" for the new year. We will publish the 2018 edition of Bright Ideas throughout the next week.

Imagine Marta, a 17-year-old abandoned by her parents who flees El Salvador because her best friend was raped and murdered by a gang member who has his eye on her next. At the U.S. border, she faces removal proceedings, but is allowed to live with her sister pending the outcome. She can seek asylum, but the standard is extremely difficult to meet and the process can take years. But if a state court awards guardianship to her sister and finds that Marta has been abandoned and that it is not in her best interest to return to El Salvador, she can seek an immigration benefit called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) from the federal government. However, she has little time since she must get a court order before she turns 18 and there are few attorneys who have the expertise to do these cases and who will do them for free.

Fortunately, the UW Law School’s Immigrant Justice and Family Law Clinics have the expertise and they work together to help children like Marta to seek SIJS relief in order to stay in the U.S. legally.

Since state courts play an important role in SIJS cases, we can make sure our local courts are prepared to efficiently and fairly decide these cases, such as by creating model court forms for use in SIJS cases as California has done.

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We also should work towards assuring universal representation for all child migrants to make sure that all of our children are safe and secure.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.