Selective Persecution? The USCIS Green Card Interview From Hell

I’m told that it is a sad and scary time for Dreamers since I received my “Notice to Appear.” It looks more and more like a case of selective persecution. I need a copy of my own immigration file and see what USCIS has cooked up in it and why they think they have a fighting chance to get a removal order for me from a judge in an extremely backlogged (and liberal) San Francisco court.

This order to appear means I need to skip classes during the week, fly all the way across the country to San Francisco and all the way back on several different occasions. Going home will become synonymous with appearing in immigration court. That’s enough to cause some real mental issues. Some people want to see a live feed of the Lal vs. USCIS immigration proceedings for their own entertainment. Trust me, immigration court is not at all entertaining. It’s mentally exhausting and draining on anyone who has to experience it. That’s probably what they want to do: place me in a position where I need to spend time and energy fighting for myself rather than others. Their only problem is that I have many others who will drop everything to fight for me.

Others are asking for details of my immigration case. From what I know, my mother’s entire family is either American or Canadian, with the exception of an uncle that lives in New Zealand.  One of my U.S. citizen aunts filed for us when I was very young. USCIS abandoned that approved petition without cause. I don’t understand why but I probably should find out.

My older sister came to study here on an F-1 visa in 1997. I was sent here alone in December 1998 for a visit. Then, my father lost his job and on the spur of the moment, dragged me here on a visitor visa in November 1999 and placed me in a random high school on an approved F-2 visa. That is perfectly legal even though I don’t understand why he did that. But it was the San Francisco Bay Area and I could live more freely.

My U.S. citizen grandmother filed a family petition for us in late 2000, with a priority date of January 2001. That’s eligibility for 245-I, which allows me to adjust my status on any petition filed for me (family or employment or diversity visa) without leaving the country. Then the life-altering and tragic events of September 11 happened in my senior year of high school.

A college counselor handling my F-1 visa papers wrote to INS stating that my entire family was here and that I had an approved visa petition. That was probably the worst way to get a non-immigrant visa since an approved family petition shows an intent to stay. I was 17, didn’t know anything about immigration matters and left things up to my parents and other lawyers. I just attended high school while doing college coursework, scored in the Top 1% of state for the STAR 9 exams in consecutive years, placed as second team in policy debate at the Stanford National Invitationals. It was up to the adults in my life to manage my immigration affairs.

After a semester of college, I received a letter denying my F-1 visa application because the I-130 petition from my grandmother showed intent to stay. In all honesty, I neither had intent to come here nor any intent to stay. Lawyers advised that any appeal would place me in removal proceedings. We didn’t know what to do. My parents were not about to send their youngest child to a country they had left behind, and a country in the midst of political upheaval. Lawyers told us not to worry — I could always adjust my status under the family petition filed by my grandmother. After all, being a derivative beneficiary of the petition was cited as the reason my F-1 was denied.

Due to backlogs and date retrogression, it took years till the priority date of the petition became current. No one ever told us that after 21, I would no longer have any right to gain benefit from the petition. Everyone, including member lawyers of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told me that I was protected with both 245-I and the Child Status Protection Act. Either they lied or USCIS is gunning for selective persecution now.

My older sister got married, became a U.S. citizen and filed an F-4 petition for me as well, which will take eons. My parents eventually became legal residents through my grandmother when I was 24 and aged-out on her petition. My mother filed a separate second category petition for me, asking USCIS to grant me the original priority date of January 2001 from my grandmother’s petition. Somehow, USCIS processed the paperwork, called me for biometrics and granted my work authorization. We were all quite happy since it meant the worst was over for us.

I have never spoken about the acrimonious and hostile green card interview that followed. First, the USCIS officer going over my file asked to see my mother who did not need to be at the interview and proceeded to interrogate her. Then she asked me twice why I had come to this country. I answered evenly that “my father brought me here when I was a kid.” She didn’t seem to like that answer.

She went down the list of my various degrees (my proof of continuous presence) and when she found out that I was in law school in Washington D.C., the USCIS officer seemed enraged. She insisted that I should not have filed using a California address. I calmly noted that I lived there when the papers were filed, that everything for my entire family was filed in California and my permanent residence unequivocally was California. She replied that it was not appropriate, took my Washington D.C. address and proceeded to complain to her supervisor.

She came back and asked me to prove that I was here on December 21, 2000. I told her I had sent in my high school transcript that showed I was here and showed her the I-94 card stamped on November 13, 1999. She atrociously noted that it didn’t prove my presence on that exact date and I could have left the country. That’s incorrect unless she thinks I could have swam to Fiji and back. Does she expect a 16-year-old to show utility bills? Maybe USCIS doesn’t think I have 245-I, unlike my parents even though it is from the same petition. That would be fun to argue over in court.

I also need to find out how many people with 245-I’s and qualifying relatives are actually being deported from the country. USCIS has often exercised prosecutorial discretion in such cases. I have various approved petitions that say “we understand that the relative is in this country and will file for adjustment of status when the priority date becomes available.” I have more priority dates than I can count but right now, the Department of Homeland Security seems to be prioritizing my removal.

People are emailing me suggesting marriage. I’m gay. Even if I get legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, I cannot gain any immigration benefit due to the fact that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage. Moreover, I would lose my status as an unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, even though the federal government doesn’t recognize the marriage. It makes a lot of sense, like the rest of our immigration laws.

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