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Md. high court says youngster can apply for special immigrant status

Court of Appeals issues second such order in two months.

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s top court has ordered that a young Guatemalan immigrant be permitted to remain with his uncle in Lanham while applying for special U.S. residency status and likely citizenship.

In its three-page order Friday, the Court of Appeals cited “uncontested” evidence that the youngster “suffered parental abuse and neglect” in his homeland.

The high court criticized the Prince George’s County Circuit Court’s decision denying Santos Nohe Lopez Perez the opportunity to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status protection under U.S. law despite the evidence and assailed the Court of Special Appeals for affirming the trial court’s ruling.

The Court of Appeals told the lower courts to carry out its order by Wednesday because Thursday is Perez’s 21st birthday, making him ineligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which allows for U.S. residence and a path to citizenship.

The high court’s order was its second in as many months summarily ordering a young immigrant to remain in the Unites States pending an SIJS application with the federal government. In December, the court permitted another Guatemalan immigrant, identified in court papers as R.P., to remain with his father, citing “unrefuted” evidence that the youngster’s mother had neglected him in their homeland and would continue to do so if he were returned.

In Perez’s case, his parents withdrew him from school at age 12 and sent him the next year to work in the fields 40 hours per week, including fumigation work without protective gear to protect him from the harmful chemicals, according to court papers.

Perez, who is undocumented, came to the United States at age 14 with the consent of his parents, who do not speak with him. He hopes to become a mechanic, stated Perez’s attorneys, Steven M. Klepper and Hugo C. Castro, in the papers filed with the high court.

Klepper, who led Perez’s appeal to the high court, praised the order.

“After undertaking this appellate representation on an emergency basis less than three weeks ago, I’m grateful the Court of Appeals considered this case over the holidays and saw fit to grant immediate relief under these extraordinary circumstances,” Klepper, of Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore, stated in an email message Monday.

Castro is with the Law Offices of Hugo Castro LLC in Rockville.

In its order, the Court of Appeals – with an undisclosed “majority” in concurrence – criticized the circuit court for disregarding the evidence and then rejecting Perez’s notice of appeal because his attorney had failed to include a certificate of service with it. The attorney corrected the mistake 15 days later but beyond the notice’s 30-day deadline.

The high court also criticized the Court of Special Appeals for taking 418 days to uphold the circuit court’s ruling against Perez based on the inadequacy of the notice of appeal.

The Court of Appeals stated that without its order Perez would be “left without recourse to redress counsel’s deficient conduct and, through no fault of his own, may face severe hardship if the Court of Special Appeals’ decision stands.”

Under federal immigration law, youngsters seeking SIJS status must be under age 21, unmarried and show that “reunification” with the parent in his homeland is “not viable due to abuse, neglect or abandonment or a similar basis under state law.”

The Court of Appeals issued its order in In Re Santos Nohe Lopez Perez, No. 61 September Term 2018.

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