In Franz Kafka's chilling story "The Metamorphosis", a man wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed into a "gigantic insect".
Recently, a California family, all permanent residents for over 30 years, was suddenly informed by the government that they were all illegal aliens and must return to Thailand.
Mr. Promsiri entered the United States on a student visa. His wife and two young sons, aged 10 and 3 joined him in 1971.
In 1975, the parents obtained a divorce from a Thai Consulate in the U.S. The wife married an American citizen, and the couple honeymooned in Thailand. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok examined their marriage certicate and the divorce degree before granting the wife permanent residence.
The couple then returned to the U.S. where the citizen stepfather sponsored his two stepsons. Another agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) examined the paperwork and granted green cards to the boys.
Fast forward to 2009. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), successor to the INS, recently ordered the mother and the boys to appear before an Immigration Judge and charged them with being illegally present in the U.S. Nearly 34 years after examining their paperwork and granting them green cards, the agency suddenly decided that they should never have been granted permanent residence in the first place!
Because the government maintains that a divorce granted by the Thai government in the U.S. rather than by a state court is invalid.
Why then did two U.S. government agencies approve the paperwork for the Promsiri family back in 1975? If they had found the divorce to be invalid then, the parents could have obtained a divorce in the Superior Court, and the mother could have remarried, and obtained a valid green card.
Did the agency ever get a chance to review the paperwork since 1975? Many times. In 1983, the older brother Andy applied for U.S. citizenship. The INS examiner approved his application, and he was scheduled for a swearing-in ceremony. However, the day before the ceremony, someone from the INS called Andy's mother, told her that there was a problem with her divorce and that Andy should not appear at the naturalization ceremony. The agency would let them know what they needed to do.
Despite the passage of 25 years, dozens of inquiries and many new naturalization applications, the family was kept in the dark until 2009 when they were suddenly placed in deportation proceedings.
During those years, time did not stand still. Andy and Kevin graduated from college. Both have prestigious jobs, one at a major university; the other at a bank. Both are homeowners and taxpayers and have no connection to the country of their birth. Their mother, now 71 years of age, has retired. Andy and Kevin support and care for her.
As soon as they received the notice from the Immigration Service, they came to see me. They were in a state of shock. After living almost their entire lives in the United States, they are American as American can be. All their lives, they had played by the rules. Why did the government want to send them back to Thailand?
We requested that the local director of the Immigration Service exercise prosecutorial discretion. To our great relief, he did so. He agreed to cancel the removal proceedings against the Promsiris.
We hope that now the family can finally become U.S. citizens.
We also hope that other families will not be subjected to the Kafkaesque ordeal that the Promsiris have suffered.