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 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.

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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). 

A Final Note On #LGBTCIR

I had a busy week and several mentions in LGBT media after the New York drama that I have put squarely behind me.

Of course, I anticipated differing reactions to what I had to say in The Advocate (Universal Stagnation and Immigration Reform Conundrum) and Ambiente. But some people are uninterested in recognizing the need to work together or don’t see the helping hand extended towards trying to create more inclusive platforms. No, they would rather stick to their guns and start launching attacks.

I fought for same-sex binational couples bill (UAFA) inclusion in CIR and I was told by pro-migrant people to “get my priorities straight” and stop supporting an issue that might kill a bill of much value to immigrant communities. Nevermind, that my actual issues with any potential CIR legislation have nothing to do with LGBT issues.

Then I was told by angry and resentful Uniting American Families Act activists that they don’t see why these “illegal immigrants” deserve a pathway to citizenship before them. Of course it always comes down to them and their families, and not larger macroeconomic forces created by a neo-liberal order, and a broken immigration system that never provided a legal pathway for most people of color immigrants here to begin with.

Would you even understand why people leave their homes, uproot their whole lives, to move thousands of miles to a foreign place, just to start over? That question plagues me daily.

It’s almost utterly useless trying to have these conversations with people who are not both part of the undocumented and queer communities because they tend to see themselves as being “shafted” and immediately fight for the leftover pieces of the pie. They just do not get that we need to take over the bakery and fix it so that everyone can have as much pie as they want. Period.

And if you happen to be queer and whine about how CIR does not include your family but includes those “illegal immigrants,” I no longer mind your exclusion. Why should we bend over backwards to pull you up when you have absolutely no courtesy or knowledge of our unique immigration struggles?

I don’t see why it is so hard to see that the system is broken for everyone— that all our friends, communities need help and support instead of nit-picking who needs it more than someone else.

So ultimately, what’s the point of trying to reach out and build bridges when they end up tearing me in the middle? What possible gain do I have from any of this? Nada. It’s just painful to have people tear one part of me over another. You know what: from now on, you can’t have either, whatever that means. I have more important things to do than having to defend one part of my identity over another.

I won’t give any roadmaps or strategies. Fight your own battles without lashing out at my communities and me just because it is convenient and we are easier targets than a failed system.

Threatened: The American Taliban – Iowa and Vermont Approve Gay Marriage

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! What are opponents of gay marriage going to do when civilization fails to collapse?

Two U.S. states with different socio-economic, political and geographical realities came through for same-sex marriage this past week.

Vermont becomes the fourth state after Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Iowa to recognize same-sex marriage in the United States. We eagerly await the ruling in California, which should come no later than May.

Anti-gay marriage activists (the ones that spend all their time reading up and chatting about gay news) are spurring into action, snarling about judicial activism and the downfall of democracy, as well as civilization.

The atheist judges of Britain had destroyed Christianity in Britain, they allowed Sikh people to wear turban instead of helmet but prohibited schools from celebrating Christmas stating that it is offending non Christians.

Another moron:

It’s time for righteous indignation! We have a voice that needs to be heard, but in order to be heard we must use our mouth. This country was based on Christianity and MORALITY in our pulpits!

Does that even merit a response? It offends the sensibility of this blog and tells us not to bother arguing with such people since they have obviously lost control of their mental faculties.

Needless to say, I am thrilled. However, I would like to also take a moment to say that gay politics do not and should not stop at ‘gay marriage.’

Read: What Constitutes Gay Immigration Politics – Notes from a Queer Undocumented Organizer (

Read More …

Sovereignty and Same-Sex Marriage – Native American Tribes

Given the sovereignty of Native American tribes within the United States and the fact that the tribes are allowed to do certain activities that are illegal for the general United States public (i.e. smoking peyote), marriage also falls under this category. However, it still does not grant the couple federal benefits since there is no such thing as “same-sex marriage” under federal law.

It boggles my mind how discrimination so clearly and blatantly in violation of equal protection laws continues to thrive. I don’t understand what the government gains from creating and treating a special category of peoples as different and subhuman. Wouldn’t acknowledging same-sex marriage give more power and legitimacy to the state as well as prolong the life of the dying institution of marriage? Keeping people in the ‘waiting rooms of history’ where they await the chance to live their lives freely, has the potential of creating communities in conflict with the flow of government. Of course the ‘handouts’ such as ‘civil unions’ and hospital visitation rights, serves to keep these communities formed in the ‘waiting rooms of history’ in relative harmony with the state. And the case in discussion is just another one of those ‘handouts.’

At the request of a lesbian couple, the Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast has adopted a law recognizing same-sex marriage.

Tribal law specialists say this appears to be the first time a tribe has actively sanctioned such marriages. Most tribal law ignores the issue. The Navajo and Cherokee tribes prohibit same-sex marriages.

The impact of the tribe’s action, first reported by The Oregonian newspaper, appears limited to its small reservation, given Oregon and federal prohibitions against gay marriage. The couple planning their wedding at the tribal plankhouse don’t seem to care, saying they seek only tribal recognition and equal tribal treatment.

“For me, the important thing wasn’t about rights or the benefits,” 25-year-old Kitzen Branting told the Eugene Register-Guard. “I just wanted the tribe to say ‘Yes, we recognize that you are just as important as any other tribe member, and we will treat you and your spouse as we treat all tribal members.’ “

Legal scholars said that tribes do have authority over domestic relations among tribal members, but Congress may have the ultimate say-so.

“It can do anything good or anything bad to the tribes and the Indian people as citizen Indians,” said Robert Miller, who teaches Indian law at the Lewis & Clark College School of Law in Portland.

He said the tribes have all the rights they have historically held unless Congress takes them away or the tribes give them up by treaty.

“Congress is the 900-pound gorilla in the corner,” Miller said. He said it is a vague and generally unknown loophole that can remove tribal powers.

Bill Funk, who teaches constitutional law at Lewis & Clark, compared the Coquille action to that of states that recognize same-sex marriages even though the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 does not and says other states and tribes needn’t do so.

“Under federal law, these are not marriages,” said Funk.

He said the lack of federal recognition could make the couple ineligible for marriage-related Social Security and other federal benefits.

He compared the tribe to Massachusetts, which recognizes same-sex marriages although the federal government does not

Oregon voters amended the state constitution in 2004 to prohibit gay marriage. But with its sovereignty recognized by the federal government, the tribe is not bound by that. Oregon does recognize civil unions.

A same-sex couple from the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma applied for a marriage license there in 2004 and had a ceremony, then the tribe outlawed same-sex marriages after the fact.

At least two tribal lawsuits challenging the marriage have been thrown out and a third is in process, said Shannon Minter, an attorney for the San Francisco-based Center for Lesbian Rights, who represents the couple.