Sri Lankan Teen Fights for Her Faith

A recent news story highlights one teenager's religious battle with her parents taken to the extreme.

Sri Lankan Teen Seeks to Remain in US

A Sri Lankan teen living in Ohio converted from Muslim to Christianity, and ran away from home, fearing her parents would harm her, or return her to their native country. She stated she fears retribution for leaving the Muslim faith, possibly even death.

The teen fled from her home in 2009, and stayed with a minister in Florida. Authorities investigated her case, and didn't find threats to her safety from her parents. A Florida court ordered the teen's return to Ohio, and she was placed in foster care. The teen and her parents agreed to a counseling plan to resolve the conflict about the girl's religion and her return. She has her own attorney who insists the teen won't reconcile with her parents before her 18th birthday.

An Ohio court recently denied the girl's request to allow her to take steps to apply for special immigration status without her parents' consent before she turns 18 in August 2010. There was no claim of current deportation proceedings, and the girl's parents claim they are seeking immigration for the whole family.

This is more than the typical "defying your parents" story. The teen could also be adopted by her foster family, but like immigration, it could take a long time to complete.

Juvenile Court Proceedings Not Open to Public

Due to a gag order, the parties and their lawyers aren't allowed to discuss the case. In nearly all states, most court cases involving children are sealed, meaning the public isn't allowed to know what's going on. This includes matters of foster care, adoption, juvenile delinquency and claims of abuse or neglect. The written court decisions in these areas are prepared so the minor's last name isn't revealed.

It's also common in these cases for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, or other representative to help the court make decisions in the child's best interests. This person has a duty to recommend to the judge how the child's best interests would be served, which may or may not be the same as what the child wants.

Immigration Proceedings Are Complex

How and when any immigration proceedings will resolve is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. Many political and social issues make the situation even more complex.

Seeking refuge or asylum in the US is one way to obtain citizenship. However, it might be difficult to prove that returning to your native country could lead to torture or even your death. In this situation, returning to her native country could mean death since the teen converted and is no longer Muslim.

It's possible for children to apply for asylum on their own, but proving they're eligible for that status isn't any easier. The recent Ohio hearing didn't reveal the exact reasons why the teen wanted to seek immigration relief on her own and before she turns 18.

Immigration law is a highly specialized area. For example, it's important for non-US citizens to follow all of the rules to the letter if you want to become a citizen or a certain immigration status. If not, you could be deported.

The number and types of visas seem endless, each type having a specific purpose and procedures. Talk to an immigration attorney before taking any action, no matter how routine it may seem. The details matter, and missing a step could put your immigration plans at risk.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Why would the teen be punished for being Christian in Sri Lanka?
  • How old must I be to start the immigration process?
  • What if my parents are immigrants but I was born in the US? Does that make me a US citizen?
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