Uncertainty for immigrant child about to age out of care – 2019vol2#21

An aftercare review was heard in Dublin District Court in respect of a child whose immigration status was uncertain.

The child’s application had been made to Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) by the CFA. The CFA made the application last September and a further application was made in January. Following meetings with INIS, the CFA was advised that the application would be rejected but it had not been rejected yet.

The CFA was not considered by INIS to be the legal guardian of the child. The natural mother could not sign the documents required as she was not an Irish citizen. The CFA solicitor said: “We are seeing if the office of legal services can liaise with the INIS [to ascertain] if anything could be done. We are pressing the immigration services to give us an update. The child ages out [of care] in January and it is causing her stress.”

The judge said: “I am puzzled that INIS does not regard the CFA as a parent of the child.”

The solicitor for the GAL said it seemed “to be the position that the parental responsibility of the CFA did not extend to making that application and it [the application] will have to wait until she is 18 years old. The GAL says she [the child] is dependable and has made progress but that does not mean that she could complete the [immigration] process when she turns 18.”

He added: “If the application is rejected, the CFA [might] consider if there is a public law challenge. The GAL would ask the CFA to consider bringing a judicial review.” The solicitor for the CFA said: “It will be a matter for the agency then to bring a judicial review and we cannot pre-empt the outcome of the application.” The solicitor for the GAL said an individual from INIS and a time scale could be identified. If there was no progress, the solicitor for the GAL would seek a direction for someone from legal services to give an update about the status of the application.

The judge noted the immigration authorities were part of the Department of Justice. He said it would be useful to tease out what INIS was saying about the application as the minor was left in limbo. He directed that an individual from INIS should be identified and a report on the status quo be prepared.

The case resumed later with a child in care review. The judge had requested witnesses from INIS to come to court to give evidence in relation to the child’s immigration status and two witnesses from INIS were present in court.

The CFA had received a letter from INIS and the contents of the letter were disputed by the CFA. The letter raised serious questions. The judge said: “It would be unfair to the social workers were they to give evidence on the basis of the letter today and I would hope to avoid that.” The CFA needed an opportunity to consider the letter before their integrity was called into question.

Counsel for the GAL said the difficulty was the child was turning 18 years in January and it was understood in May 2018 that an application for naturalisation was refused. He said: “There was no action taken on foot of that and then we hoped for a second application for naturalisation. We thought it was made but the indication from INIS was that it would take six to eight months for a decision. The court made a direction that INIS provide an update but there was no reply. At all times we have tried to act expeditiously. It now transpires that no application was grounded before INIS and we are not sure how that happened.”

Counsel added that INIS and the CFA had different views. We were not in the business of playing the blame game, counsel said. “We need to work out what the next progression is. We have six months to try and resolve the situation. There may be documentation which challenges the CFA integrity. Without looking backwards, the evidence taken today would look forward as to how to regularise the situation in the best interests of the child. I fully accept that the CFA are in a difficult position and those are my instructions.”

The judge said: “This application should be made. The issue of the status [of the child] is an important child welfare issue and that is common case. We also have [the issue of] whether the paperwork was correctly refused and then we have the witnesses. If they [INIS] are talking to you, you do not need to put them in the witness box.”

Counsel for the GAL said: “I think if I am to extract information from them, I would like that done by evidence.”

The judge said: “There may be a situation where progress could be made to narrow down [the issues]. It is better if the court does not interfere in that process.”

The solicitor for the CFA said priority could be given to a fresh application of the child to INIS.

Counsel for the GAL said: “I would like to be on a formal footing and a certain degree of evidence. If the court adjourns the matter, we can then discuss this.”

The judge said the other matter was the failure of INIS to recognise the CFA as the guardian of the child. Counsel for the GAL said that [issue] will have to litigated in Ireland.

The aftercare review was adjourned.