I became an immigration lawyer because I did not really want to be a lawyer. I found that in 1996 I could be an incompetent nice guy who sat next to my clients while they got green cards. There was not much lawyering involved. I encouraged my clients to tell the truth, and I used to point out weak points of my cases so that the officer could do a thorough investigation and be satisfied that the relationship was real.
Immigration made sense back then. The immigration service showed me by their actions that they believed good people should get green cards and that bad people should be shown the door. For nearly any crime an alien could request a waiver of deportation, citing humanitarian or other equitable grounds. Although the crime of marriage fraud existed, no cases were pursued in Tampa. A marriage that did not meet the bona fide requirements of the Tampa office was simply denied. People who believed in their bona fide marriages continued to immigration court, others went back home.
Immigration was not about “national security.” Immigration was not about reminding people from other countries that they are not us. Immigration was not about preventing nice people from immigrating. Immigration was about helping good people enter the US while trying to prevent bad people from entering the US. What is a good or bad person was up for debate in any given case.
The immigration officers at the time had broad discretion to decide cases as they saw fit. I learned that in nearly every case there appeared to be some technical violation of the immigration law somewhere (there are a lot of laws), but that a wise immigration officer would decide whether or not to create an issue on a given application depending on whether or not they thought the applicant was a good or a bad person. They would look to tax records, criminal records, and will make a determination about the person based on the record in front of them. The law was used to make it more difficult for bad people to apply for residency. There were times when good people would get kind of a pass. By “pass” I mean that the immigration officer would determine a waiver was not required, although maybe one should have been required, or the immigration officer would not ask questions about an area where there was clearly trouble, but where the trouble served no purpose, as in the case of previous unauthorized employment, the nature of previous marriages, and other issues outside the purview of an application for adjustment of status.
Now it appears that the immigration officers have no ability to decide if the people in front of them are good or bad, as they have been told to assume that everyone is bad. The law is used to delay and harass aliens applying for lawful permanent residence, regardless of whether or not they are good or bad people. The local office in Tampa acts as if there is a magical application for every circumstance, and any technical default in any case will result in them denying jurisdiction or denying a case.
I know that the immigration officers are frustrated, because I can see it in their eyes. These are generally good people who want nice people to move to the US. But the level of proof now required for a simple marriage or other immigration case is beyond any reasonable level.
I was reviewing an interview I attended regarding removal of conditions in 2006. I was with an officer who has a great reputation for knowing who is or is not telling the truth. My white Canadian client was applying for removal of conditions based on her short term marriage to a black US citizen man. My records show that we presented about 10 pieces of paper, and that the officer asked six questions of my client, determined she was telling the truth, and ended the interview, granting lawful permanent residence without conditions.
Such a simple interview is unthinkable now. For removal of conditions married couples are sometimes denied, as their currently real and existing marriages are deemed not real enough. I can tell you that the law in 2012 is no different than the law in 2006 or even 1998. The attitude of CIS is different. What is also different is the many and numerous obstacles that have been put in the way of ordinary and regular people getting the benefits they deserve from the federal government.
I have seen too many clients open themselves up to ridiculously detailed testimony regarding relationships and events from long ago for no purpose. I have seen the pain on my client’s faces as they told the truth to a painful degree, only to be called a liar. I win in the end, but the toll on my clients. and their faith in the United States, compelled me to act more aggressively.
No one is served by the current immigration policies at Tampa CIS. Not the government, not aliens, not US citizens, nobody.
I did not want to be a lawyer, but the US government has forced me to be one. This is my country too. My clients have officially “lawyered up” for the duration. Instead of being free with evidence and testimony, we will give only what is required by law, not by Tampa CIS. When CIS does not agree with me, then I will simply go see the Judge in Immigration Court.