A young couple came to my office recently with a familiar story. The husband, a United States citizen, sponsored his wife for the Green Card. As she entered the U.S properly, with a visa, she was allowed to "adjust her status" in the United States. Basically this means that she would be receiving her Green Card without having to leave the country. An application was filed, and an interview date scheduled.
At the adjustment interview however, some problems developed. In a short while the interview was over. Apparently the immigration official suspected that this was marriage of convenience. The official took the passport and stamped it. The stamp read "245 interview." The applicants were escorted out. As a parting word the interviewer said, "You will be notified through the mail."
Months passed and finally a letter arrived directing them to appear for a second interview. They show me the notice and asked me what to do, what to say, what is going on. And I explain: The first interview is the standard interview and should have been their last but obviously the examiner was not satisfied. Instead of denying the application on the spot, which they have been known to do, the case was forwarded to the investigations unit of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for a second interview called a "Stokes" interview.
A Stokes interview is taped. The USCIS. official will thoroughly scrutinized the husband and wife in an attempt to arrive at the "truth." After all persons, including the attorney states his name and address the examiner asks whether any documents are being submitted in support of the petition. This is a good opportunity to "stuff" the record with documents in your favor. Remember that the decision to deny or approve can only be based on the evidence in the record of proceeding.
Examples of appropriate documents are: birth certificate of children, leases for apartments which indicate both names along with rent receipts, life insurance policy showing the spouse as beneficiary, joint bank account, cancelled checks showing both parties use the checkbook, joint credit cards, family medical insurance, letters from the employer (on their letterhead, signed by an official of the firm stating date employment began, marital status, and whom to notify in case of emergency), copy of income taxes (filed jointly if they were married at the time filing is required), and photographs of the wedding and other photographs since marriage.
Once the documents are submitted, the actual interrogation of the couple really begins. First, one is taken into a room with only the examiner and lawyer present. The examiner begins by initially asking innocuous and simple questions. Eventually the questions become more detailed, more personal delving into all aspects of the couple’s relationship. Questions ranges from who woke up first this morning to what side of the bed you sleep on. Questions about other family members such as mother, father, sisters and brothers are common. They may even ask to see the keys in your pocket and ask what each key is used for. They may ask that you empty your wallet and look at the papers and documents you carry. They are always searching for discrepancies, such as a driver s license with a different address. When the inquisition is completed then the other spouse is questioned in the same fashion.
Again, with the lawyer present, identical questions are asked. This time the immigration examiner is looking to see if the answers are substantially the same. The attorney listens carefully for any inconsistency and if necessary, re-words the question or clarifies it in order to assist his client. The attorney is there to take notes in preparation of a future appeal should it become necessary.
Once the second spouse has been questioned then both people are brought together. If there were discrepancies or inconsistencies in the individual answers the parties are asked to explain. Here again the lawyer may be able to assist in clarifying the questions and answers given. If all the doubts of the official are satisfied then the petition should be approved. If the examiner still believes that the couple only got married to get a green card they are sent home without an approval and will eventually get a notice of intent to deny in the mail. The parties have another chance to explain the discrepancies to the INS.
If the immigration examiner is satisfied with the answers, s/he may either approve the case or send it back for another interview. If it is denied, an appeal can be made. If the appeal is denied, many cases are forwarded to the deportation unit to commence deportation proceeding.
If the interviewing officer believes the marriage is a sham, the USCIS may
1) Deny the application and subsequent applications pursuant to INA 204(c);
2) Refer for visa fraud prosecution pursuant to 18 USC Section 1546;
3) Institute removal proceedings;
4) Refer to perjury prosecution pursuant to 18 USC Section 1001;
5) Refer for conspiracy prosecution pursuant to 18 USC Section 371; and
6) Refer for marriage fraud prosecution pursuant to INA Section 275(c).
During the deportation process the couple has yet another opportunity to present their case to the judge and be granted the Green Card. It is important to remember never make anything up at the Stokes hearing. If you forget or don’t know, tell the examiner just that. For example, if you forgot what your wife gave you for Christmas say that you don’t remember. If you make up something, your spouse’s answer will be different and your case may be denied.
Let those who want to apply for a Green Card through marriage take note; Proper preparation is the key to success. Many a cases of real marriages have been lost because of improper preparation. Just because you have a good marriage does not mean that you will be able to answer all the questions properly. You must always prepare.