Why You Need to Update Your Address with USCIS

All non-US citizens inside the US are required by law to notify the government of any changes of their addresses. This is a cautionary tale about what can happen if they don’t.

One recent Monday evening, a client came to me because, just a few short hours earlier, his wife had been arrested and taken into custody during their immigration interview. During our consultation, he provided me with the following background information.

His wife previously lived in Minnesota. Her then-husband didn’t trust lawyers, so they submitted all of the paperwork to USCIS on their own. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out and they got divorced. Wanting a fresh start, she moved to California.

Several years later, she met the love of her life in Los Angeles. They got married and she again submitted the applications to USCIS — on her own — for her to obtain a green card. Everything seemed to be progressing normally and the happy couple was summoned to the federal building for their interview.

Unbeknownst to the client, several months before the paperwork was submitted, USCIS had denied the wife’s previous application for adjustment of status. The notice of the denial — and the notice of a hearing date in front of the Immigration Court — were sent to the address that USCIS had on file for the wife . . . in Minnesota. When she didn’t appear for her hearing, the Immigration Court proceeded on its case without her and issued an order of removal in absentia.

When the couple went in for their interview at the Los Angeles federal building, they essentially walked into a trap. As soon as the immigration officer confirmed her identity, she was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. ICE began to prepare for her deportation. (See also Immigration Marriage Interview: Hollywood Myths Dispelled.)

The fastest way to stop this deportation would be to file a motion to reopen with the Court in Minnesota asserting that the client never received notice of the court hearing, which is what the client retained me to do.

I interviewed the wife in her jail cell. I was able to piece together all of the events that had resulted in her being in jail: the prior application in Minnesota, her ex-husband’s failure to notify her of the court date in Minnesota (perhaps out of vindictiveness?), and the events that led her to Los Angeles. I asked her why she and her husband didn’t hire a lawyer to help them and her reply was: “We read some articles on the internet that explained how we could do it ourselves.”

Three days later, the motion and all of the supporting documents were provided to FedEx for priority overnight delivery. On Friday, the Immigration Court in Minnesota received the motion and placed a stay of removal in effect. I also worked with the local ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations to ensure that they were aware that the motion prohibited any further deportation actions. A week later, the Immigration Court granted the motion and my client’s wife was released.

How could the client’s wife have avoided being placed in jail on the verge of deportation? Simple. First, keep her address updated, as required by law. Second, a good lawyer would have checked for prior immigration applications before submitting any new applications.

I invite you to come talk to me about your immigration questions . . . preferably before someone ends up in ICE custody.