Journey to Citizenship: Overcoming Trauma and USCIS Delays

Journey to Citizenship Overcoming Trauma and USCIS DelaysFour years ago, a wonderful person came to my office seeking help. She was confused about what USCIS planned to do with her “green card” and was terrified that she would be deported from the United States. She was faced with a devastating decision of whether to bring her young US citizen daughters to live in her home country, where deadly violence was rampant, or leave them in the US without her.

She came to me because USCIS had sent her a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) after she and her now ex-husband had submitted Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Lawful Permanent Residence. She and her ex-husband had split up, and he refused to assist her with the case. The client informed me about her experience with her ex-husband, and it became apparent that he had subjected her to abuse and extreme cruelty. We decided to file a waiver of the “joint” I-751 petition based on abuse. This meant that we would renew her “green card” without her husband’s support by explaining that he, a US citizen, had abused her during their marriage.

For the next few months, the client worked with me to prepare a clear explanation of her experiences with her abusive husband. We submitted the petition and hoped for a speedy approval by USCIS. However, many months passed, and there was still no decision by USCIS. The client then decided to file for US citizenship, once again explaining that she was eligible based on her ex-husband’s abuse of her.

Then, two years after the client first hired me, USCIS scheduled her for an interview on her I-751 Petition and N-400 Application for Naturalization (Citizenship). While we prepared for the interview, we realized that the client had forgotten important information in prior USCIS applications. We discovered that the client had blocked out the memory of a prior abusive marriage that she had not previously disclosed on USCIS applications. We quickly connected the client to a mental health specialist who could analyze why the client had forgotten about her first marriage when she had been previously asked about all of her past marriages. The mental health specialist determined that the client suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress, which caused her brain to protect itself by suppressing memories of past abuse, including her entire first marriage. The mental health specialist explained that this was a common response to trauma, and the client’s mistake in not previously mentioning the marriage was not an intentional lie–it was a trick her brain played on her to help her survive after trauma.

We attended the interview, confident that we could explain the client’s full story and all inconsistencies in her past applications. Unfortunately, we ended up with an officer who doubted her answers throughout the interview and distorted what she said over and over, despite my corrections to his mistaken understanding of her answers. He wrote a statement that he wanted her to sign, and I insisted that he correct it four times because he repeatedly misstated the client’s answers in the written document. I spoke with a supervisor and explained how we presented our case clearly and proved that the client was eligible for the green card and citizenship applications to be approved. However, both the USCIS supervisor and officer refused to approve the decision that day.

After the interview, several months passed before we heard anything from USCIS. I contacted them on multiple occasions, but still, there was no decision. Finally, after almost two years since the client hired me, USCIS approved her I-751 Petition, and her green card was extended for another ten years. While it was great news, I knew that the client was still waiting for her citizenship application to be approved. I considered suing the federal government over the delay, but the client was hesitant to take that step. So, I kept pestering USCIS until we finally saw an online update, almost three years after the client hired me, that her case had been scheduled for a Naturalization Oath Ceremony. The client, her family, and my entire team were thrilled that she finally received the result that she deserved. Our client is now a proud U.S. citizen.

Ellen Sullivan, Esq.   Founding Attorney Cambridge Immigration Law, P.C., April 11, 2023


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