Protesters hold signs that say “NY Loves Immigrants” during a rally in New York in 2016. Photo: By Krista Kennell/Shutterstock

Federal immigration officials now believe more than 6,500 at-risk adolescent immigrants in New York were denied special federal protected status following a change of Department of Homeland Security policy in 2018, according to court filings.

The figure is double what immigration advocates initially believed the class size to be, following an order in March by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl of the Southern District of New York that reestablished state family court orders as sufficient to meet federal requirements for those at-risk 18- to 21-year-olds seeking protected immigration status.

The information came in a letter filed May 15 with the district court arguing that an amendment to the proposed language defining qualifications for the class approved by Koeltl would unnecessarily burden federal officials by reopening more cases than was necessary.

In the letter, the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York addressed the push by attorneys for the immigrant class to open up reviews of cases that included orders from New York State family courts, rather than the current condition of decisions made “solely” on the basis of these state court orders.

As the letter from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office noted, a recent teleconference with Koeltl showed the judge inclined to have this smaller subset of class cases that included, but weren’t limited to New York family court orders, based on the relatively small estimate of 200 such cases.

After an internal review, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found the number of cases—both the subset in dispute and the overall number of potential class members—to be far higher.

USCIS now estimates the subclass to be 552 cases where state family court orders were in the mix. The larger set of class members—young adults denied special status based on being abandoned by or at risk of harm if sent back to their families since 2018—jumped from advocate estimates of around 3,000 youth impacted to the federal government’s estimate now of 6,658.

Attorneys representing the class of young immigrants impacted by USCIS’s special immigration juvenile status—or SIJS—decisions expressed concern over the most recent filing from the federal government.

“We are shocked to learn that the Federal government relied upon an unlawful policy to deny critical humanitarian relief to over 6,600 immigrant youth in New York State alone,” Beth Krause, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Migrant Youth Project, said in a statement. “We hope that the Court will grant final relief, which will prevent the government from treating our clients and other vulnerable young people unlawfully.”

A DHS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new figures.

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