cheese wedges.jpg[Bloggers Note:  Today’s offering is a Guest Post by Nici Kersey, who recounts memories as a child and their lasting impact, even on her practice of immigration law.  For a similar recollection of government handouts from my childhood, click here.]

Government Cheese

by Nici Kersey

My first memory of “the government” involves government cheese.  My great-grandmother always had the stuff in her refrigerator, and I thought that it was (after White Castles) the best food ever invented.  At four years old, I had likely only been exposed to a few types of cheese:  cheddar, mozzarella, Velveeta(if that counts), and government.  I had a clear favorite.  When I requested it at the grocery store, my mom told me that it wasn’t something you could just buy, and I became convinced that it was a rare and very special thing, right up there with love and happiness.

Of course, as I grew up (or at least got older), I learned more about the government, and it is now my job to “deal” with the government on a daily basis.  Most of these dealings are via  paper filings only.  Speaking with government representatives over the phone is not a daily occurence, and it is rarer still to have in-person interactions.  (Unless you count my daily interactions with my husband, who serves in the U.S. Army.)  I have attended a handful of interviews and appointments at the USCIS office on the north side of Atlanta.  While most of these experiences have been palatable, none have left me as satisfied as I was as a four-year old after eating that government cheese.

Just as the government “cheese” wasn’t real cheese – but instead a highly processed “cheese product” — the immigration “service” isn’t renowned for its service.  Instead, it provides customers with lengthy processing times, delays, non-answers, and, often, disappointing decisions.

Because I had come to expect disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised during a recent series of interactions with the government.  (I had become so accustomed to eating the government cheese that I had all but forgotten the many other cheese options that the cows, goats, sheep, and apparently even cats of the world have made possible.)

My (pro bono) client was another Army wife.  She had entered this country as a fiancée years ago, married the guy who had filed the petition on her behalf, and later divorced.  They did not file a green card application.  She then married the U.S. citizen/soldier, and they worked to immediately file the requisite green card paperwork.  It was denied because the only way for someone who entered in K-1 (fiancée) status to obtain a green card is through marriage to (and, according to the USCIS examiner, petition by) the K-1 petitioner.  ICE initiated removal proceedings against her, and then I got involved. 

In large part because of my client’s status as an Army wife, the government treated her with fairness, respect, and (compared to other similar cases) a good deal of speed.  ICE agreed to place her under an order of supervision rather than in a detention facility, so she was able to go home and resume her normal life.  (She had to be home for a designated window of time each Sunday for a phone call from an automated ICE system, and she was not able to drive without a license because I forbade her from doing so, fearing an arrest.)  I have not asked her how much cheese she ate during her period of supervision.

We went to court twice.  The first was for a Master Calendar Hearing, and the judge agreed to fast-track the case, assigning us an individual hearing about a month later (whereas others were being assigned almost a year in advance).  At the individual hearing, the government attorney did not argue against my client’s adjustment of status, and the judge granted it.  We were lucky to have a new case on our side (Matter of Sesay) that more-or-less mirrored my client’s situation; it held that, so long as the foreign national who entered in K-1 status married the petitioner (and the marriage was bona fide – real cheese rather than “cheese food,” if you will), she was eligible to adjust status, regardless of whether the marriage was in tact at the time of adjustment.  She is now awaiting her green card, which should arrive in the next week or so. 

My description of the case may make it sound simple; it wasn’t.  But at all points during the process, our interactions with the government went smoothly and ended well.  And it all happened fast!  We did not have to wait for the government cheese to age, and it turns out that it is best eaten young.

A recent announcement by ICE to exercise discretion in removal cases has about half of the country in uproar.  But it makes sense to focus on the situations in which the foreign national is more deserving of removal (where serious crimes are involved, for instance) instead of spending valuable court and preparation time on Army wives.  There are downsides to the discretion:  it is not likely to occur quickly, and it does not offer much in the way of a resolution/peace of mind for those who are on the favorable side of the discretion.  But it marks a step toward functionality.  And I’ll take that kind of processed “cheese food” over the likely alternative (deport everyone/no cheese at all) any day.