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An Easy I-130 Marriage Interview

Lindsay Schubiner and Prerna Lal

Lindsay Schubiner and Prerna Lal, at our official wedding ceremony in Washington D.C.

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.

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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). 

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I Was Supposed To Get My Lawful Permanent Residence Today

The stage was set. The Immigration Judge gave us this date at my last hearing. It was supposed to a warm and fuzzy weekend, with my U.S. citizen partner and I flying out to San Francisco from the East Coast to attend the short ceremony. My family, from all over California, had promised to take time off from work, to come to the hearing and see me getting sworn in as a lawful permanent resident. I had submitted my tax records, underwent several biometrics and fingerprinting sessions, and proven that I posed no health risk to the country by undergoing a thorough medical exam. I was ready to get my green card.

Alas, true to its grinch nature, the Office of Immigration Litigation and the Department of Justice broke our hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Now, I don’t need a green card to operate normally. I don’t need it to graduate from law school. I don’t need it to get sworn in as an attorney. And I certainly don’t need it to get a job. I don’t need to be legal for any facet of life in America. I need a green card so that I can leave this country without forever facing separation from my immediate family.

I have absolutely no use for American citizenship unless I want to commit crimes and vote for the lesser of two evils.

I’m sure I’m not different from many people without immigration status who aren’t aspiring to be American as much as they simply want the opportunity to go back home without facing a ten-year bar from ever seeing their relatives again. Immigration advocates with their nationalistic fervor have made it almost shameful for people like me to admit that we don’t crave citizenship.

I crave freedom of movement. I desire the chance to get to know my roots. I want to serve my country and my people. I need to heal from the trauma of being brought here. But mostly, I just need to see my home before it is ravaged by climate change.

Yet, the stigma is sometimes more overwhelming than the deep sense of loss. The voices taunt and berate:

“How dare you live here and not love America?”

“How dare you betray the sacrifices of your parents?”

“How dare you even consider life somewhere else?”

Grunt. I am 28-years old, hold three different degrees, pay my taxes, take care of my own housing, and don’t owe anyone, besides myself, any answers.

Even if I don’t deserve a green card, I do deserve to be free to go home.

I’ve tried to leave. So many times. As a teenager, I ran away from our house in Hayward, California but I didn’t know where to go. So I had to come back. When I got a little older, my poor mother, who is a legal resident by way of her mother (a U.S. citizen), bribed me into staying and finishing graduate school by saying she would pay for it if I stayed but would not support me if I left. So I stayed. When I decided to go off to law school in Canada, the U.S. Embassy in Fiji got in the way by providing false information to Canadian authorities.

I decided enough was enough. That’s when I applied for a green card, compelling the USCIS to either grant me legal residency or place me in removal proceedings. With luck and charm, they chose the latter. Alas, my misfortune is such that the government doesn’t have the damn cojones to go through with it. It’s quite pathetic.

So, I’m still stuck here, reeling from 14 years of post-traumatic stress, without a real ability to heal unless I leave. And the people around me are stuck with it too. Bless them.

I’m afraid that by the time I do get the chance to go home (and it is really a matter of when at this point), it won’t be home anymore. It will take a long time for my broken heart to heal from the reality that there is no place on this planet that feels like home.

Maybe I am forever doomed to be an alien. Maybe I’m stuck searching for home in people, rather than places. And maybe, that isn’t such a bad thing.

Next Master Calendar – October 10, 2013 – Fiji’s Independence Day.

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