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Woman adopted by, married to US citizens still facing deportation

A recent immigration appeal by a woman from Ghana highlights the hostility of some U.S. immigration officials, intentional or otherwise, to family immigration. The now-29-year-old woman was adopted by her U.S. citizen-aunt and is married to another U.S. citizen. Nevertheless, for nine years she has fought through byzantine legal rules and acknowledged due process violations, to avoid being deported to a country she hasn’t seen since age 15.

She entered the U.S. legally in 1999. Her aunt initiated adoption proceedings but the adoption wasn’t finalized until 5 months after her 16th birthday. In 2001, she applied for an adjustment of status based on that adoption to allow her to legally remain in the U.S.. Immigration officials turned her down because, in order to qualify for the adjustment, a child has to be adopted before age 16.

To resolve the problem, a Washington state court issued an order making the date of her adoption retroactive to before her 16th birthday. Such orders are completely legal but, unfortunately, a 1976 Board of Immigration Appeals case issued a blanket rule that retroactive adoption orders don’t apply in immigration cases.

In 2002, the woman married a U.S. citizen. In 2004, however, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services initiated removal proceedings against her. Her husband filed for a spousal visa on her behalf, but in 2007 the USCIS pronounced her marriage a sham and denied the visa. In 2008, she appealed to the BIA but lost.

This March, after Attorney General Eric Holder brought the case to its attention, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear her appeal. Regarding the sham marriage ruling, the appellate court ruled that the woman’s due process rights had clearly been violated because she was never allowed to present evidence that her marriage was real.

The appellate court also appears to believe the adoption ruling is manifestly unfair -- and so, it seems, does the Board of Immigration Appeals. With its hands tied by the 1976 case, the BIA recently called for briefing in two separate cases on whether the 1976 precedent should be overruled or modified. In light of that, yesterday the 9th ordered Holder’s office to provide periodic status updates on whether the 1976 case should apply to this one.

This woman has two separate, essentially legitimate claims to family immigration, yet she has spent much of her life struggling against deportation. Is this justice?

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Immigration Rule on Retroactivity Dissected,” Barbara Leonard, Sept. 12, 2013

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