Nearly three years ago, Paulina hired me to work on a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) on a U application. USCIS said that they were inclined to deny her case because they thought she had committed marriage fraud. I knew it was going to be a difficult, if not impossible case. Although U status has a very generous waiver of forgiveness (everything from multiple illegal entries to prior orders of removal), marriage fraud is one of the immigration “kisses of death.” If USCIS decides you married someone only for the green card, you’re not allowed to receive any immigration benefit in the future – be it a tourist visa, humanitarian parole or another green card. In talking with other attorneys who practice in this area, I knew that most cases that had a prior history of marriage fraud were either being held indefinitely while USCIS created a policy or the cases were simply denied.

Paulina explained that in the filing she and her ex-husband put together (he was a US citizen), that she realized they didn’t have a lot of documentation. She and her ex-husband had a pretty transient relationship – moving from one place to another, neither one having credit, and they never thought about getting joint accounts.  Yet, when it came time for her green card interview, the couple panicked and forged a signature on their lease. USCIS discovered the forgery and when taken into consideration with a lack of documentation and seeming lack of knowledge about each other, the agency said that the couple did not have a bona fide relationship.

A few months later, Paulina was attacked while walking to her car after working a long shift as a waitress. She was held at gunpoint and threatened. She called the police and provided a detailed description of her assailant – who was eventually caught, arrested, and jailed. She then filed for U status, knowing that she qualified as a victim of a crime who cooperated with local law enforcement.

About a year after she filed, she received the NOID that said the prior marriage fraud finding was so serious that she could never show enough equities to balance it out. USCIS felt that, despite the generous U waiver provisions, that the marriage fraud finding could never be forgiven. In our response, we explained the dynamics of the relationship and Paulina’s sincere remorse for forging a signature. A marriage isn’t fraudulent just because it was bad or lacked evidence. For two long years, we waited for a response.

Last fall, we received two Requests for Evidence (RFEs) asking for more information on the marriage and the crime’s impact on Paulina. I was happy we weren’t outright denied, but concerned that USCIS still wanted more. Again, I explained the law regarding U waivers and marriage fraud and went over all of heartache and anxiety Paulina had gone through.

Earlier this week, the case was approved! For the first time in nearly a decade, Paulina was able to go to sleep and not worry about her immigration status. When I told her the news, her sobs of relief and happiness nearly brought me to tears, too.

I’m not sure if our case was the first one to be granted when a marriage fraud finding had been made, but I think it may have been one of the firsts. And who knows…maybe we convinced USCIS that it wasn’t a fraudulent marriage or maybe they think it was, but felt that the law and discretion warranted a grant. What’s important, though, isn’t that we were first or why it was granted. It was granted and a life was forever changed.