Meet Jon Greenspan, a second-year Justice Fellow at Brooklyn Defender Services. He provides free, quality legal assistance to immigrants in cases involving removal defense, SIJS, U and T visas, and asylum. After uncovering an erroneous decision made by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), Jon secured his client a permanent green card, avoiding deportation.
Jon’s client, Gregor, is a 29-year-old from Brazil. Gregor’s application to renew his green card had been denied by USCIS. In 1999, Gregor moved to the United States. His stepmother, a U.S. citizen, petitioned for his lawful permanent residence status as the child of an American citizen. USCIS granted him a conditional residence green card in 2017.
When Gregor applied to renew his green card, USCIS denied his application because he had failed to remove the conditions on his green card. According to USCIS, Gregor no longer had lawful status, which meant he was at risk of deportation. Under increasingly complex U.S. immigration laws, marriage to U.S. citizens results in conditional residence unless the marriage is more than two years old at the time of the immigration status grant. Conditional green card holders must file an additional application to remove conditions on their status within two years of obtaining the conditional green card.
Gregor was not aware that he had a conditional green card. He always thought he was a permanent resident on a path to citizenship. He applied to renew his green card, but the application was ultimately denied, and he found himself in dire straits. He was frightened that the government would initiate deportation proceedings against him and that he would lose everything he had built in the twenty years he had lived in the United States. He was scared, confused, and frustrated – and understandably so.
From the beginning of Jon’s involvement, he could tell that something was not adding up.
“USCIS’s decisions at various points in the case didn’t make sense,” Jon said. “There were unexplained delays, and his father…received a permanent green card, without conditions.”
Unfortunately, USCIS does not provide case history, nor does it explain the reasoning behind every decision. It is possible to file a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to access a client’s immigration file, but that can take a very long time, and the file will usually just contain an unorganized set of documents, sometimes much of it redacted. Jon filed the FOIA request anyway. Working with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, because Gregor is Deaf, Jon interviewed Gregor several times, reviewed documents he provided, and pieced together what happened.
“I realized USCIS had simply made an error,” Jon said. The marriage between Gregor’s father and stepmother occurred five years before Gregor was granted lawful permanent residency. “Gregor’s green card should have never been conditional; it should have been a permanent green card from the beginning.”
Jon immediately moved to reopen the denial of Gregor’s green card renewal application, documenting USCIS’s error in granting Gregor conditional residence status. Three months after taking Gregor’s case, USCIS reversed its decision and approved Gregor’s application for a permanent green card.
“Obviously, this case was frustrating in that USCIS failed to recognize its own error beforehand, meaning that my client was forced to live in fear and uncertainty and spend over one thousand dollars filing various applications and appeals that he never should have had to submit,” Jon said. “But the good news is that my client is now more secure in his immigration status and is feeling much less anxiety about the whole situation.”
Due to Jon’s tireless work and resilience, his client no longer lives in fear of deportation. Had it not been for Jon, USCIS would have initiated removal proceedings against Gregor, and he would likely have been deported because there is no right to appointed counsel in removal proceedings. Gregor plans to apply to become a U.S. citizen within the next few months. Jon’s work demonstrates that quality representation makes a difference.