Thanda and Wunna’s Case Changes Nebraska Law

A JFON-NE team effort opened a new avenue of relief for Nebraska ’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children.

Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status is a pathway to permanent residency for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents. For many years in Nebraska, this option was only open to children who had been mistreated by both of their parents. Although contrary to federal law and rulings by other states, children in Nebraska who still had one supportive parent in their life were left without options for relief. In 2015, the JFON-NE legal team developed a strategy that changed the outcome for Nebraska children.

Thanda and Wunna are ten and twelve-year-old siblings from Burma. When Thanda, the younger of the two children, was only a few months old, their father abandoned them and their mother and disappeared from their lives. Forced into single parenthood, their mother came to the United States to find a way to support her children alone. She left Thanda and Wunna in Burma with their grandfather. However, when their grandfather’s health began to fail rapidly, their mother made arrangements to bring the children to the U.S. to reunite with her.

After making the long journey to the U.S., Thanda and Wunna were apprehended and placed into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Although eventually reunited with their mother, the children were placed into removal proceedings and faced the risk of being deported to Burma without their mother. In most other states, Thanda and Wunna would have had a clear pathway to SIJ status. JFON-NE attorneys tried a new strategy by filing custody action for their mother. The court entered findings saying Thanda and Wunna had been abandoned by their father and it was in the children’s best interest to remain with their mother in the U.S. With this order, JFON-NE attorneys helped the children apply for SIJ status and it was granted only a few short weeks later. Now the children can live safe, full lives in the loving care of their mother.

This child custody victory opened a new pathway to relief for potentially hundreds of immigrant children in Nebraska who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one, but not both, of their parents.