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How my clients (and I) survived a 2 hour Stokes interview

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What did we learn from a two hours Stokes interview? Hi. I'm Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer, practicing law throughout the United States out of our offices in San Diego, California, and St. Louis, Missouri.

In this video, we're going to talk about a two-hour Stokes interview that I attended earlier this week. For those of you who don't know, a Stokes interview is what happens when USCIS wants to test the validity of a marriage, the accuracy of a marriage, whether a marriage is real, when a foreign national is attempting to obtain an immigration benefit based on that marriage.

Now, in this particular case, it was very, very unusual. It was really a dumb Stokes interview. It was dumb to even have a Stokes interview. Let me tell you why. My client hired us to sue USCIS because they had been waiting for a decision on their I-751 for over three years. They have been waiting so long that they had gone ahead and applied for citizenship. We filed a lawsuit against USCIS in Washington, DC for the delay, and the interview was scheduled for this week.

Now, as I mentioned, this couple has been married ... Actually, I didn't mention, they've been having their 751 pending for three years, but they've been married for over five or six years. They have two children. They've lived together the entire time. And the whole idea that we were even going to have a Stokes interview was dumb, and USCIS will do this. Some field offices conduct Stokes interviews as a matter of course. In other words, that's their default, that if anyone's applying for an immigration benefit, that they're going to do a Stokes interview.

Now, this one in particular, they even recorded. I didn't know what in the hell was going on. I don't know if this was a new officer or what, but here's the thing. He wasn't even very good at the Stokes interview, so it was all sort of a mess, it was all sort of random. Now, maybe he's like Colombo, this old detective when I was a kid who just fumbles around and figures things out, but I didn't really have that sense. Usually, when you have a Stokes interview, the officer is going to ask the same questions to both parties. If I were going to do a Stokes interview, I would ask all my questions. I would write down the questions and the answers, and then I would go down the questions in roughly the same order.

Now, when we did the Stokes interview, of course, the parties are not both in the interview room at the same time. So here, the officer actually went ahead and conducted the N-400 and said that everything was approvable if the marriage was okay. So we did the test, we did the N-400 questions, and then he switched to the Stokes interview for the beneficiary, and the beneficiary did great. The beneficiary had a very clear answers, very smart person, everything went fine.

But then, the officer did the curious thing. He didn't go in order and ask those same questions. He sort of bounced around. It was very improvisational. He was taking notes on a piece of paper. I really don't understand, or nor did I feel it was very effective the way he approached us.

The good thing was that my clients answered virtually every single question exactly the same. There were a couple of little discrepancies, but you know what? I don't mind that. I like when there are little discrepancies. Now, don't try to be clever, don't try to be cute. And the reason the Stokes interview went so well is because this was a real marriage. They have two kids. They were accurate about what time bedtime was. They were accurate about what the routine was. They were accurate about who the last friend's house they visited for dinner was.

The officer was sort of all encompassing with his questions. The questions went all over. They were talking about their living arrangements, their banking arrangements, who pays the bills. Everything was very thorough, but it was just a little bit messy. I'm reasonably confident. I'm very confident that this case is going to be approved and I'm happy for my clients. And so, what can we take away from this? One thing that we can take away from it is USCIS does a lot of dumb things.

There's no really real reason for a two hours Stokes interview for a couple that's been married for six years and has two kids. I just don't understand why you'd want to do a Stokes interview in a situation like that, but even if you're going to, it wasn't very well done I don't think in my opinion. Maybe the officer thinks he has this clever way of doing it and just sort of shooting from the hip, which was also interesting because it was being recorded, which means that his supervisors could watch it. And maybe that's why he did an extra long Stokes interview. It seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. Maybe somebody told him to record it, and so that's why he just kept going, and going, and going. It was so obvious, especially after the US citizen came into the room to answer questions.

Every question after every question was almost identical in their answers. And I was taking notes because you never know what you're going to get from these goofball officers, and so you never know if they're going to say, "Oh, well, there was this little discrepancy," and that little discrepancy, and leave out all the examples of the testimony they gave that was similar. Now, here it's videotaped, so there's not going to be really any dispute, but still I took a lot of notes to make sure that I wrote down all the questions. We keep a running list in our office of Stokes interview questions, which is very helpful when we want to prep our clients for such an interview.

So, if you have a marriage based case, or if you're worried about getting a Stokes interview in your case, please feel free to give us a call, 314-961-8200. You can email us at [email protected]. Be sure to join us in our Facebook group, which is called Immigrant Home and make sure that you subscribe to our YouTube channel so that whenever we make a video it'll show up on your timeline. And then, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not today because I'm traveling, we have a call-in show to answer as many of your immigration-related questions as possible in the Immigrant Home group and in the Facebook group. Thanks a lot, and we'll see you next time.

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