Buffalo Field Office Director Michael T. Phillips has just denied a request for prosecutorial discretion which if granted, would have allowed Ben Sangari, a citizen of the United Kingdom, to apply for a green card pursuant to his marriage to his United States citizen spouse Arlita McNamee Sangari. Mr. Sangari entered the U.S. on May 30, 2014, under the visa waiver program that allows nationals of certain countries to come to the U.S. without having to apply for a visa through the Department of State. His visitor status expired on August 27, 2014.
Mr. Sangari overstayed his visitor status by a couple of weeks after he asked for his wife’s hand in marriage. The couple was in the process of collecting all the necessary documentation needed to apply for his green card when Mr. Sangari was encountered during a routine traffic stop in the suburban Buffalo, New York area. He was taken into custody by Customs and Border Protections, and then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he has remained since September 22, 2014. Because he faces an imminent threat of removal, the couple were forced to marry from inside the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, New York.
By coming under the visa waiver program, Mr. Sangari is not entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge, and his fate is decided by the local district director who maintains sole discretionary authority to decide if he wants to deport him, or allow him to apply for a green card as a result of his marriage to a United States citizen.
Despite the overstay of his visitor status, Mr. Sangari remains eligible to apply for his green card inside the country pursuant to a policy memorandum that specifically provides for this scenario. This memorandum has been ignored by Field Office Director Phillips, who instead based his denial of our request for relief entirely on the fact that he deemed Mr. Sangari a deportation priority due to the recency of his immigration violation, despite the fact that the Obama administration has specifically identified individuals such as him as a low priority for removal.
It should be noted that Mr. Sangari is a respected businessman and philanthropist holding a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in physics from the University of London. He sits on the Board of Trustees of the Eisenhower Fellowships, formerly chaired by Henry Kissinger, and now by General Colin Powell. The Eisenhower Fellowships’ primary mission is to inspire leaders around the world to challenge themselves, to think beyond their current scope, to engage others, including outside of their current networks, and to leverage their own talents to better the world around them.
Mr. Sangari has also been an invited participant in President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative, which convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. In a letter dated October 22, 2009, President Clinton wrote “Your presence symbolizes an unwavering dedication to empowering our communities and building a stronger future for our world. I was inspired by your ideas, your initiative, and most importantly, your hope.” High praise indeed.
The following letter is a plea written by Mr. Sangari’s wife Arlita. The couple have asked me to share it here in the hopes that it will bring attention to their case, as well as serving as a warning that the memorandums of the Obama administration are not being implemented on a local level, and that families are being destroyed in the process.
We can only hope that someone is listening:
As a U.S. citizen you are taught to believe that you belong to this country, that you are protected, that you are free. When I think about what my experience has brought me in the United States it feels very far from free.Together with my mother, my father and my brother, this week a family of U.S. citizens was just torn apart. As we cried what felt like a river of tears together, we all had to mourn what could have been and then face the reality that my parents would say goodbye to their daughter and son in law and what would have soon been their role as the grandparent-down-the-street. Ben’s ability to immigrate to the United States from the United Kingdom was denied.If Ben had a criminal record or any such blemish on his past that made him unsuitable to be welcomed into this country, perhaps we could have understood it. We still are not sure where we will go, but we know we will not leave one another’s side. The fact is that the family that we were to begin will now has to wait until we have stabilized somewhere.
My U.S. citizenship is supposed to make me feel free in this country and I have never felt more betrayed. When we arrived here some months ago, we brought so much hope with us. Not just for reuniting a family after 10 years us working in developing countries, but in finally having the opportunity to build a nest and raise our children in the safety of home. Now this hope has been shattered.
From the moment we decided to pursue residency here we weighed our decisions carefully, we were careful to follow protocol. No one has asked us about the unfortunate circumstances that forced us to delay our wedding until days after the expiration of Ben`s visa, but the story is compelling.
We were not naïve as to focus on family without also planning our careers and finances here. Our time here gave birth to an idea of a project for Buffalo that would create jobs, employ both of our skill sets, and bring economic growth to our region. We had already raised $150,000 for this Buffalo-based green technology venture, with plans to raise an additional $1.5 million in the next three years. Ben has 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, and just five years ago established a business in the US, investing more than $5 million in the US. He had ample right to a residency visas then, as an investor or for outstanding work (O Visa), but hadn’t need to pursue it.
Turning us away for the smallest of mistakes, for which we are so overwhelmingly regretful, means closing this chapter of hope, of excitement, and of fulfilling our life goals here in this community. Now, by expelling Ben, I too have been expelled from my own country, and now I am the immigrant, with no status, at the mercy of England`s gates.
We never tried to take more than what was ours, nor skip anyone else in line to come to America. We do not believe we are entitled to anything beyond fair and reasonable judgment.
Please reunite our family and let this nightmare end. We have been waiting years and years for this moment and the power is yours not to take it away.
Arlita McNamee Sangari
Matthew Kolken is an immigration lawyer. You can follow him @mkolken.