EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The governor of New Mexico has signed a bill strengthening the rights of migrant children going through difficult situations in the state.

HR 15 establishes a special immigrant juvenile classification for abused, neglected and abandoned foreign migrants. This is meant to facilitate their applications to stay in the United States.

The bill approved by the majority-Democratic state legislature and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday mirrors existing federal statutes with some key differences. It extends the designation not just to abused, neglected or abandoned minors, but also to those who fear returning to their home country, according to the state’s Legislative Finance Committee report.

“This bill becoming law means that children who come to our state cannot be forced back into harm’s way. We are committed to making New Mexico a safe place for kids to grow up, no matter where they come from,” said lead bill sponsor state Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states it has sole jurisdiction to determine petitions for special immigrant juvenile classifications that may lead to legal permanent residence status. However, the state analysis of the bill concludes that federal law empowers courts engaged in determining custody and care of juveniles to make those special immigrant juvenile determinations.

USCIS also requires that reunification with one or both of the migrant’s minor’s parents is not viable.

USCIS eligibility requirements for Special immigrant juvenile classification. 

Advocacy groups in New Mexico celebrated the state’s commitment to migrant children in need of help.

“A huge win for immigrant youth,” tweeted the New Mexico Dream Team. “We are so happy to have worked with (New Mexico Immigrant Law Center) on this impactful bill. This law will create positive generational change, educational opportunities, and eventually citizenship.”

The state law is effective immediately and can be applied retroactively in state courts.