Unique Texas Divorce Case Highlights Little-Known Immigration Clause | Ask a St. Louis Immigration Attorney about Affidavits of Support

A little known clause in U.S. immigration laws has many unknowing sponsors entering into binding contracts with the government that bind them financially for years and sometimes even life.

Unknown “contract” when sponsoring immigrants

When Steve Summers decided to help his Mexican born wife, Evangelina Zapata, obtain U.S. residency, he signed an affidavit vowing to support her so that she would not be able to become a “public charge.”  A public charge is an immigration term used to describe someone who relies on government assistance to pay for food and bills. Summers and Zapata ended up getting a divorce four years ago and despite their marriage failing, the affidavit Summers signed requires him to pay alimony to Zapata. She has sued Summers in federal court for breach of contract to support her at 125 percent of the poverty level.

This obligation, which most U.S. citizens enter into when helping spouses obtain citizenship, is a contract one enters into with the U.S. government. The I-864 affidavit is rarely enforced and a complex area of immigration law which many lawyers warn their clients about. Joseph De Mott, an immigration lawyer in Texas says, “You don’t hear about it very often, it’s rarer that you hear about this being enforced. People sign these things, they go in a file and they just forget about it.”

Clause could lead to exploitation of U.S. Citizens

This affidavit specifically states that the petitioner agrees to support the immigrant at 125 percent of the federal poverty level unless the foreign national “becomes a U.S. citizen, or works for roughly 10 years in a job through which they pay into the Social Security system, or fails to keep the permanent legal residency status.” The theory behind the law is to avoid someone marrying an immigrant than the person leaving and wanting the government to take care of them. However, for people in a situation like Summers, who was married for many years and has a child, this provision works against him. The law is flawed in that it allows immigrants to expect lifetime support from a U.S. citizen without having to work or become naturalized. “They can stay for years in limbo status and never move out of it,” Marcus Barrera, Summers’ attorney. Summers hopes this provision of immigration law can be tightened to prevent exploitation of so many who enter into a binding contract when sponsoring their partners.

If you have questions regarding affidavits of support or the promise that you make to the federal government when you sign such an affidavit, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.