As previously discussed, we have been seeing a sharp uptick in USCIS harassing and antagonizing people who appear before the agency without an attorney. The Service seems to almost take glee in messing with people who are unrepresented and a recent case that we handled bear this out. The case provides several important lessons for those folks considering "goint it alone."
We had the privilege of representing a nice doctor from Canada and his American wife. The couple had dated for several years and would travel back and forth frequently between Canada and the States. Ultimately, they decided to get married and the U.S. citizen decided to sponsor her husband for a green card.
The couple considered hiring an immigration attorney, but decided to apply pro se, that is, without an attorney. They did a ton of research on the internet and downloaded all of the forms. They made an InfoPass appointment and showed all of the forms to the woman at the front window. The CIS woman said that "everything looked good."
Unfortunately, the couple neglected to file an I-131, which is a request for a travel document known as advance parole. This error caused real problems for the couple later on down the road because the Canadian doctor had to leave the U.S. while the green card case was pending. But he left without permission (advance parole). Technically, at this point, the green card case was abandoned and no longer approvable.
The doctor was lucky enough to be allowed into the country when he tried to return to the U.S. Customs officials could have said that he had demonstrated immigrant intent by filing an abandoned green card application. But they allowed him to return. Shortly thereafter, the couple were scheduled for a green card interview with USCIS.
At the interview, the officer chided them for abandoning the green card application and, in addition, concluded that the doctor had misrepresented himself when he returned to the U.S. She believed that there was no way he could have gotten into the U.S. without having lied to Customs. The officer approved the I-130 marriage petition, but denied the green card case as abandoned and because of the alleged misrepresentation.
It was at this point that the couple consulted with our office. When we heard the tale and determined who the examining officer was, we believed that a great injustice had occurred. We believed our clients and that absolutely no fraud had occurred. We refiled a new I-485 application to adjust status to that of lawful permanent resident.
We recently appeared for the interview. We had a different officer (who happens to be an attorney) and she quickly deduced that this was a situation in which the couple did not understand the rules and that no fraud had occurred. We are happy to report that the adjustment application was approved and our client's green card is on its way.
The main takeaway is that even a relatively straightforward case can get screwed up by not filing the proper forms. Leaving the U.S. while any immigrant application is pending is extremely risky. This is especially true when you don't have the right forms on file. Not having a sophisticated immigration attorney can also cause big problems.