United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE
James Dennis Dorbor is a citizen of Liberia seeking to be
naturalized as a United States citizen. His application for
citizenship has been denied by the U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Service (USCIS), and he turns to this court for
de novo review of that decision, as provided under 8 U.S.C.
government contends that Dorbor was erroneously granted
status as a legal permanent resident (LPR) in 2009, and
because he did not qualify for LPR status then, he does not
qualify for citizenship now. The parties agree that Dorbor
qualified when he applied for LPR status because his
wife had asylum status. The question is whether he still
qualified after he and his wife divorced, which was after he
applied but before his application was granted. Both sides
move for summary judgment. Dkt. 17 and Dkt. 20.
facts of this case are undisputed, and the decisive issue is
the interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1159(b)(3), which
states that an asylee may not adjust to the LPR status unless
the applicant “continues to be a refugee . . . or a
spouse or child of such a refugee.” § 1159(b)(3).
The question is whether the word “continues”
refers to the time the application was filed or to the time
the agency decided the application. In isolation, §
1159(b)(3) is ambiguous; both Dorbor and the government
propose reasonable interpretations of the statue. But the
text, purpose, and history of the statute as a whole, as well
as related immigration statutes and case law, support
Dorbor's view. The court will grant Dobor's motion
for summary judgment and deny defendants' motion. This
makes it unnecessary to consider Dorbor's alternative
argument that he is entitled to relief because the USCIS
failed to adjudicate his application in a reasonable time.
following facts are undisputed.
is a citizen of Liberia. He married Garmai Stubblefield in
Liberia in 1987. In 2001, Stubblefield entered the United
States and successfully applied for political asylum.
Stubblefield applied to have Dorbor and their three children
admitted to the United States as derivative asylees. Dorbor
was admitted to the United States as a derivative asylee in
applied, pro se, for an adjustment to LPR status on May 5,
2006. Dkt. 23-3. Dorbor's relationship with his wife had
deteriorated, and apparently Dorbor and Stubblefield did not
live together in the United States. In his application for
adjustment, Dorbor listed his marital status as
“divorced.” Id. at 4. But Dorbor did not
formally divorce Stubblefield until October 29, 2007, through
a petition to the Liberian government.
was interviewed in connection with his application for
adjustment to LPR status on February 9, 2009. He explained
his marital situation to the USCIS agent. Notes on the
application suggest that Dorbor had clarified during his
interview that he was “separated” at the time of
his application. Dorbor was granted LPR status on February
13, 2009, nearly three years after he filed his application.
Dorbor remarried in November 2009.
applied for naturalization, with legal representation, on
January 14, 2014. He was interviewed by a USCIS agent on
October 15, 2014. Dorbor's application was denied in a
written decision dated March 2, 2016. Dkt. 23-5. The bases
for the 2016 denial were that Dorbor was divorced at the time
of his application for adjustment to LPR status, and that his
marriage to Stubblefield was not bona fide. Dorbor requested
reconsideration and a hearing. Dkt. 23-6. After two further
hearings, the USCIS reaffirmed the denial in a decision dated
May 8, 2017. The sole basis for the ultimate decision in 2017
In your case, according to your testimony and your
documentary evidence, the petition ceased to be valid because
you divorced your petitioning spouse before your adjusted
petition to this court followed.
U.S.C. § 1421(c), Dorbor is entitled de novo review in
district court of the denial of his application for
naturalization. The question is whether Dorbor has met his
burden to show that he meets the statutory requirements for
naturalization. Berenyi v. Immigration &
Naturalization Serv., 385 U.S. 630, 636-37 (1967). The
district court has no equitable authority to naturalize
applicants who are ineligible under the law. Immigration
& Naturalization Serv. v. Pangilinan, 486 U.S. 875,
885 (1988). Dorbor requests an ...