Saul H. v. Rivas (In re Saul H.)

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation13 Cal.5th 827,514 P.3d 871,297 Cal.Rptr.3d 86
Docket NumberS271265
Parties GUARDIANSHIP OF SAUL H. Saul H., Petitioner and Appellant, v. Jesus Rivas et al., Real Parties in Interest.
Decision Date15 August 2022

13 Cal.5th 827
514 P.3d 871
297 Cal.Rptr.3d 86


Saul H., Petitioner and Appellant,
Jesus Rivas et al., Real Parties in Interest.


Supreme Court of California.

August 15, 2022

Horvitz & Levy, Jason R. Litt, Burbank, David S. Ettinger, Burbank, Anna J. Goodman, Beth J. Jay, San Francisco, Christopher D. Hu, San Francisco; Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Bhairavi Asher, Abigail Ward Lloyd, Marion Donovan-Kaloust; Disability Rights California and Munmeeth Soni, Los Angeles, for Petitioner and Appellant.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Gregory N. Pimstone, Los Angeles, Joanna S. McCallum, Los Angeles, Sirena P. Castillo, Los Angeles, Jessamyn Vedro, Los Angeles, Thomas R. Worger, San Francisco, and Kyla Wyatt, Santa Monica, for National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Joshua D. Tate, Los Angeles; California Appellate Law Group, Rex S. Heinke and Jessica M. Weisel for Public Counsel as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

Maria Blanco, Vivek Mittal, Los Angeles, Alfonso Maldonado-Silva and Sarah Domenick for University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

Dennis A. Fischer, Santa Monica, Robin B. Johansen, Sacramento, R. Rothschild, Scott M. Reddie, Fresno; Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Sean M. SeLegue, San Francisco; Law Offices of Robert S. Gerstein, Robert S. Gerstein ; Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley and Michael G. Colantuono, Pasadena, for California Academy of Appellate Lawyers as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

Munger, Tolles & Olson, Joseph D. Lee, Los Angeles, J. Max Rosen, San Francisco, and Stephen Hylas, San Francisco, for Bet Tzedek as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

Latham & Watkins, Christopher S. Yates, San Francisco, Elizabeth L. Deeley, San Francisco, Austin L. Anderson, Kailen M. Malloy; and Elizabeth A. Greenman, Los Angeles, for Kids in Need of Defense as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and Appellant.

No appearance for Real Parties in Interest.

Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Jeffrey E. Raskin, Los Angeles, and Stefan C. Love, as Amici Curiae, upon request of the Supreme Court.

Opinion of the Court by Groban, J.

297 Cal.Rptr.3d 93
13 Cal.5th 836

Saul H. left his native El Salvador at the age of 16, fleeing gang violence. Saul's parents started sending him to work in the fields in the summers when he was 10 years old. When Saul was 15, his parents made him stop going to school after gang members twice approached him outside of class, attempted to recruit him, and when he refused to join, threatened to kill him and his family. Saul then got a job to help provide food for his family, but a gang member approached him there too, threatening to "disappear" him unless he paid a gang "tax." Saul eventually left El Salvador on his own, against the wishes of his parents.

In the United States, a distant relative took Saul in and agreed to serve as his guardian. Saul petitioned the probate court to issue the predicate findings he needs to support an application to the federal government for special immigrant juvenile status, which allows qualifying immigrants under the age of 21 to seek lawful permanent residence. ( Code Civ. Proc., § 155 ( section 155 ); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J).) In support of his petition, Saul submitted a declaration describing the dangers and deprivations he faces in El Salvador, his parents’ inability to provide for and protect him, and the safety and happiness he has found in his guardian's care.

The probate court denied Saul's petition. The court determined that because his parents’

514 P.3d 877

inability to provide for and protect him was due to their poverty, Saul could not establish reunification with his parents was "not ...

13 Cal.5th 837

viable because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis pursuant to California law." ( § 155, subd. (b)(1)(B).) The court further declined to find that it would not be in Saul's "best interest ... to be returned to" El Salvador. (Id ., subd. (b)(1)(C).) It speculated that Saul would not face the same hardships if forced to return because, now 18, he was "no longer a minor" and observed that some Salvadoran youth avoid gang violence and grow up to be professionals. Saul appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed. ( Guardianship of S.H.R . (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 563, 573–574, 583, 283 Cal.Rptr.3d 805 ( S.H.R .).)

We granted review to provide guidance on the statutory requirements governing California courts’ issuance of special immigrant juvenile predicate findings. We conclude the probate court applied an incorrect legal framework in ruling on Saul's petition. Applying the correct framework, we hold that it is not viable to reunify Saul with his parents because he would face a "substantial risk" of "serious physical harm" as a result of his parents’ failure or inability to adequately protect him. ( Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300, subd. (b)(1).) This is a "similar basis pursuant to California law" for the nonviability of reunification finding. ( § 155, subd. (b)(1)(B).) We further hold that returning Saul to live in El Salvador would be detrimental to his health, safety,

297 Cal.Rptr.3d 94

and welfare, and therefore contrary to his best interest under California law. ( Fam. Code, §§ 3020, subd. (a), § 3011, subd. (a)(1).) Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeal's judgment and direct that the case be remanded to the probate court for issuance of special immigrant juvenile predicate findings.


A. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Congress created the special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) classification in 1990 to protect certain immigrant children and allow them to remain in the United States when it would not be in their best interests to be returned to their home countries. (Immigration Act of 1990, Pub.L. No. 101-649, § 153 (Nov. 29, 1990) 104 Stat. 4978, § 153; Bianka M. v. Superior Court (2018) 5 Cal.5th 1004, 1012, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 610, 423 P.3d 334 ( Bianka M. ).) As amended, the law permits an immigrant " ‘child’ " — a term defined as "an unmarried person under twenty-one years of age" ( 8 U.S.C. § 1101(b)(1) ) — to apply for special immigrant juvenile status if: (1) the child is a dependent of a juvenile court, in the custody of a state agency by court order, or in the custody of an individual or entity appointed by the court; (2) it would not be viable to reunify the child with one or both parents because of "abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law;" and (3) "it would not be in the [child's] best interest to be returned to the [child's] or

13 Cal.5th 838

parent's previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence." ( Id ., § 1101(a)(27)(J)(ii).) Each of these predicate findings must be made in state court proceedings. ( Bianka M. , at p. 1013, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 610, 423 P.3d 334.) A state court order containing these findings is a required component of an immigrant child's application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for special immigrant juvenile status, which allows the child to seek lawful permanent residence in the United States. ( Ibid . )

In 2014, the California Legislature enacted Code of Civil Procedure section 155. (Stats. 2014, ch. 685, § 1.) Section 155 clarifies that superior courts "have jurisdiction to make the factual findings necessary to enable a child to petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for classification as a special immigrant juvenile." ( § 155, subd. (a)(1).) From its enactment, section 155 has provided that, on request, a court "shall issue" an order containing SIJ predicate findings if "there is evidence to support those findings." ( § 155, subd. (b)(1).) The Legislature has since acted to facilitate the issuance of SIJ predicate findings to California's immigrant children in several ways. The 2015 enactment of Probate Code section 1510.1 aligned California law with federal law by authorizing courts to "appoint a guardian of the person for an unmarried individual who is 18 years of age or older, but who has not

514 P.3d 878

yet attained 21 years of age, in connection with a petition to make the necessary findings regarding special immigrant juvenile status." ( Prob. Code, § 1510.1, subd. (a)(1) ; as added by Stats. 2015, ch. 694, § 3, and subsequently amended.) In 2016, the Legislature amended section 155 to clarify that the evidentiary support for SIJ predicate findings "may consist solely of" the child's declaration and that a court may not deny a petition based on its conclusion that the child's primary motivation in invoking the court's jurisdiction is immigration related. (Stats. 2016, ch. 25, § 1; see Bianka M., supra , 5 Cal.5th at p. 1024, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 610, 423 P.3d 334.)

B. Factual...

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