Today, I walked in and out of one of the easiest I-130 interviews at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Heterosexual or not, standalone I-130 interviews are rare. They are typically given when the foreign national spouse is in removal proceedings or deported from the country. The purpose of the interview is to establish whether the petitioner and the beneficiary have a bonafide marriage. Usually, the interviewing officer is checking for marriage fraud. Because only an Immigration Judge (IJ) has jurisdiction over issuing a green card to someone in removal proceedings, the USCIS performs the first step to ensure that the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary was not entered into to gain immigration benefits.
After the approval of the I-130, the applicant has two options if they want to proceed with getting a green card. First, an applicant can go back to court and file a motion for adjustment of status, and get a new hearing date from the IJ. Second, the applicant may file a motion to terminate proceedings and if granted, proceed with adjustment of status at the USCIS.
Several things played in our favor, especially as a same-sex couple. We had a symbolic, public wedding ceremony after Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned, which gained a lot of press attention. As we were walking out, the interviewing officer told us that it was not every day that she met couples who had newspaper articles written about them.
Second, I prepared the initial application, and made sure to augment the forms with enough bona-fide evidence of our marriage including our joint leases, shared bank account statements, photos with narrative history, magazine and newspaper articles. It hit the right spot. Today, we augmented it with joint health, dental and life insurance information, voided check with our names, more shared bank account and credit card statements, and evidence of our shared gym membership. I had a photo album with recent photos and scrapbook, but there was no need for that.
Third, I requested ICE attorneys to use prosecutorial discretion in expediting our I-130 adjudication as set forth in an August 10, 2010 memo, Guidance Regarding the Handling of Removal Proceedings of Aliens with Pending or Approved Applications or Petitions. Under normal wait times, an I-130 standalone application takes 11 months to process. To their credit, ICE attorneys on both sides of the country returned every phone call and email, and granted my request to expedite by changing the venue of removal proceedings, sending my A-files across the country, and setting us up with an interview within a month.
Here are some of the questions that the USCIS interviewer asked us today:
- Biographical: Names, addresses, date of birth, place of birth and whether we had ever been married before;
- How and where we met?
- When did we start dating?
- When did we first move in together?
- Who proposed to whom?
- Where did she propose?
- Who came to the official wedding ceremony and how many people were there?
My partner, Lindsay and I, walked in at 8:03 am with a mutual lawyer friend, and we were done by 8:10 am. The interviewing officer said she would look everything over once more but anticipated approving the application.
Update: The I-130 was approved the same day.
As icing on the cake, I just received my work permit renewal in the mail, valid until January 2015.
Judging by this red carpet treatment, one would think the U.S. immigration system has no flaws. Alas, my many years of experience as an undocumented immigrant and an immigrant rights advocate tells me otherwise.
(This post is a mere restatement of my experience and does not constitute legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. Please note results may, and very often, vary).