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Success Story No. 9

Chilean Immigrant Wins Spousal Green Card Despite Invalid Dominican Republic Divorce


Laura, a citizen of Chile, entered the U.S. on a tourist visa. During her visit, she was introduced to Cesar, a close friend of her brother-in-law.

They spent time together at a few social events, and over time, became attracted to each other. As her departure date grew nearer, Cesar began to think about how much he enjoyed and would miss her companionship.

So, about a month before her expiration date, he asked Laura to marry him. Two weeks later, they tied the knot in a civil ceremony. The following month, without seeking any legal advice, Cesar filed an I-130 petition to immigrate Laura. Looking at the paperwork, he assumed they were simple to complete.

Everything seemed to go smoothly . . . until the green card interview.

The USCIS officer denied Cesar’s petition. He had not provided proof of his divorce from his first wife.

Thinking more paperwork would fix the problem, Cesar asked his son to contact his ex-wife to obtain the entire set of paperwork. When it was received, he filed a new immigrant visa petition for Laura.

In the meantime, Laura was sent a notice to appear at immigration court for deportation proceedings because she had stayed in the U.S. past her visa expiration date.

Cesar’s divorce had taken place in the Dominican Republic over 15 years earlier. His former wife handled all the paperwork. Cesar signed documents, as requested, and mailed them back to his former wife. He never questioned the legitimacy of his divorce.

Once again, Cesar’s petition was denied.

First, the new paperwork did not cure the deficiency. It lacked the official certification required by USCIS regulations. Thus, the officer informed them that Cesar’s first divorce decree was still invalid.

Second, it was also rejected on the basis that he had filed it after Laura’s case was under the control of the immigration court.

Two months later, at Laura’s court hearing, the judge informed her that she needed to take active steps to have her case transferred from USCIS to immigration court. Due to her confusion, Laura asked the judge for time to find a lawyer. The judge granted her request.

Feeling overwhelmed, Cesar and Laura came to our San Diego immigration law office to explore their options.

After reviewing their history, Carlos told them that he needed a legal divorce from his first wife. He told them about two options: Cesar could either file for a divorce from his first spouse anew or hire counsel in Chili to help correct the mistakes in the old filing.

Under the first approach, and possibly under the second approach, Cesar and Laura would need to get married again.

Since both options would take several months, he told Cesar and Laura that the divorce papers had to be started as quickly as possible. Otherwise, Laura ran the risk of going to the next hearing as a single woman without any immediate grounds for potential relief. This could expose her to deportation.

Cesar initially leaned towards clarifying the records abroad.

However, after Carlos spoke to a few attorneys in Santo Domingo, the municipality where the divorce had taken place, he informed Cesar that locating and obtaining the records, almost two decades old, would take several weeks and perhaps up to 2 – 3 months.

There was also no guarantee the court would reopen the old proceedings and continue forward from that point. Even if the case was reopened, the court might decide against backdating the divorce. This would mean new divorce paperwork would have to be filed.

When Carlos met with the couple to share this information, Cesar decided to pursue the first approach. He would file for a divorce in California.

Having previously practiced family law for over ten years, Carlos suggested seeking a non-contested mutually agreed divorce to speed things up. Carlos reasoned that since Cesar’s ex-wife was cooperative, they could draft a settlement agreement on all possible issues, and this would lead to an earlier divorce date.

Carlos believed proof of this filing would provide the court with enough reason to allow Laura another extension, while she awaited for Cesar’s divorce judgment to be issued.

In the meantime, Laura’s case was transferred to the immigration court and her request for a continuance was granted.

With the help of his son, Cesar was able to complete his divorce in a timely manner. Less than a week after the judicial order was issued, Cesar and Laura married again. This time, it was a legal marriage.

At the next immigration court hearing, the judge allowed Cesar to file a new petition to immigrate his wife.

Shortly after, the judge transferred the case back to USCIS to review Laura’s new application for permanent resident benefits.

As Carlos had surmised, this approach worked and Laura became a new green card holder. She is now a U.S. citizen, living with Cesar and their three year old daughter in Imperial Beach, California.

This article, centered on family immigration petitions and green card issues, is part nine of a series on the successes of immigration lawyer Carlos Batara in different types of cases.

Follow this link to read more: Immigrant Wins I-601 Waiver Immigration Appeal Despite Conviction