Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
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 and dental information, cheap life insurance for parents over 50, 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).
President Obama took a stand last Friday to stop deporting certain young people from the United States and allow them the right to live and work here. Behind his pronouncement was a simple idea – that deferred action for a certain class of young people was “the right thing to do.” But he didn’t arrive at this thought overnight. Undocumented youth organizers, who have been organizing for this change for more than a decade, were the real catalysts for this change.
No one person or organization deserves credit for a powerful movement that has spawned multiple locales and geographical archipelagos. Undocumented youth took to the streets, came out and proclaimed themselves as undocumented and unafraid, conducted civil disobedience actions in offices and ICE buildings and challenged the system at every turn. We were adamant that we are a part of America, not leaving and no longer willing to be ignored. We created social and political spaces, took politicians to task and stuck by our principles of holding both Republicans and Democrats accountable to immigrant communities. Every single person who came out of the shadows and worked on this campaign deserves to celebrate and give themselves a pat on the back.
But even after the announcement, many undocumented youth organizers continue to be skeptical and rightly so. After all, this is not an order from the President, who has deported over a million people. It is merely a memo from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, quite similar to the unsuccessful memo issued by John Morton last year, which resulted in a reprieve of only 1.5% of cases in deportation proceedings. Attorney Dave Bennion lays out the problems with the new memo, noting that those who are denied deferred action may still be subject to deportation proceedings and far too many people will be excluded for simply having a felony or misdemeanor, terms that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is choosing to define much more broadly in the implementation of this policy. Additionally, the fact that the process is highly discretionary means that there is no way to appeal even illegitimate denials.
However, if executed right, this new deferred action plan for a class of young undocumented people promises to be a pilot program for how the government would carry out the implementation of any future legalization program. It also raises questions as to why the federal government cannot grant the same relief to same-sex bi-national couples, many of whom have lived here for a long time and face separation from their homes and their U.S. citizen partners.
We have won a tiny victory – a simple reprieve – but the war is far from over. My own personal thoughts go out to everyone who has aged out, everyone the Obama Administration has deported ruthlessly, everyone who has grown tired of waiting for their life to begin and left us, and everyone who is still languishing in detention without hope. Additionally, undocumented youth do not live single-issue lives and immigration is not our only problem. We are personally affected by a slow economy, a pitiful healthcare system and an education system that leaves far too many of us behind, among a myriad of other issues.
In the meanwhile, I’m still fighting deportation proceedings–not just my own, but that of many worthy clients who come through the doors of America on a daily basis, yearning to live out their dreams. When the celebrations die down, I’ll still be here, fighting for their dreams. That is also, the right thing to do.