If an undocumented minor has been detained while crossing the border, they may spend time in a shelter with other young persons while their immigration case is being processed. Should they turn 18 during this time, on the morning of their birthday, they will be removed from the shelter, and placed into an adult detention facility.
Chinese minors sent through snakeheads, or other immigrant children who have been brought to the United States without their parents, may be eligible for a form of legal relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS. Should their case meet certain criteria, they may be granted permission to remain in the U.S. legally.
They can no longer apply once they turn either 18 or 21, depending on state laws.
Challenges such as these are not faced by Chinese immigrant youth alone.
We recently had the chance to check out the feature-length documentary Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth. The young persons in the film have grown up in the U.S. since childhood or infancy, only to come to the age of 18 with no legal status, no work permit, and no place other than America that they have ever called home.
Like unaccompanied Chinese minors who have been unable to gain legal status through SIJS or other forms of relief, they face the prospect of deportation, or a life in the shadows, waiting for an unwelcome hard knock on the front door, with no path to citizenship open to them.
Check out their trailer below, and visit their site to find out about the film, and the ways in which the youth whom they have interviewed have attempted to gain control over their futures in America.