On February 12, 2024, U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell approved a settlement agreement that requires the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to support immigrant children in DCS custody by identifying and addressing their immigration-related needs. Children’s Rights, with pro bono partners Bass, Berry & Sims PLC and McDermott Will & Emery LLP, brought the lawsuit on behalf of immigrant children placed in Tennessee’s foster system and Advocates for Immigrants Rights (AIR), a nonprofit law firm that provides legal services to immigrants.

Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Paige Mills and Charlotte Elam served as local counsel on the case. Speaking about the case, Paige said, “We are pleased to have supported Children’s Rights in obtaining this agreement with DCS. The agreement addresses the unique immigration-related needs of children in the foster-care system and underscores the importance of safeguarding the rights and well-being of all children, regardless of their immigration status.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the state agreed to implement comprehensive policies and procedures to identify children eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS is an immigration classification created by Congress in 1990 to establish a long-term path to lawful permanent residency for abused, neglected or abandoned youth. To be eligible, children must receive an SIJS predicate order from the juvenile court before they turn 18. Children in Tennessee’s foster care system were consistently losing this opportunity because DCS previously had no policies or procedures in place to support access to a predicate order or application for SIJS.

Fifteen-year-old A.B., one of three named plaintiffs in the case, was born in Honduras and came to the United States six years ago and was later placed in state custody with a foster family. “I am so happy about this settlement. With assistance from DCS to complete my SIJS application, I hope to be able to get a part-time job and my driver’s license. It makes me feel so good that I have been part of something that will give other children the same chance.”

Read more about the settlement here.