CHICAGO (CBS) — Mona Rahimi was stranded in Canada for more than a year, but has been happily reunited with her husband, Adam Schuman, in west suburban Geneva after suing the federal government for the right to cross the border.
CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory first introduced us to Rahimi and Schuman in March, as they were still stuck on opposite sides of the border – she in Toronto and he in Geneva – in an extreme example of confusion over U.S. immigration laws.
Rahimi, a native of Iran, had lived in the U.S. since 2009, but traveled abroad with an expired document in May 2018, and the feds wouldn’t let her cross the border to come back.
She needed to renew her “advance parole” card to travel out of the country. That usually takes one or two months, but her January 2018 application was still “in process” four months later, when she headed to a software engineering conference abroad.
Schuman said the idea was for him to go to Canada to give her the advance parole card once she arrived, but the card never came, and the feds weren’t pleased.
“They handed me this letter that’s saying that your visa’s been sent for administrative processing,” Rahimi said.
“That really took the wind out of us. That made us realize this is going to be for the long haul,” Schuman said.
It was a long haul indeed. After 14 months, Rahimi’s immigration lawyer, Kristen Harris, tried a last-ditch effort: a letter demanding action on Rahimi’s stalled visa.
“We tried the, if you will, the good cop way very, very, very hard,” Harris said.
Their deadline came and went, so Rahimi’s legal team chose to sue the State Department. Attorneys filed what’s called a mandamus complaint.
“It basically asks the court to order the government to just make a decision,” Harris said.
Weeks later, Rahimi’s visa debacle was suddenly resolved.
“There were so many false hopes that we had, that it was hard to really believe that it was happening,” Rahimi said.
The State Department settled, just like that, after Rahimi spent 16 months away from her family.
“The sad part is the why?” she said. “There was no one day that I’ve been in this country illegally, or have not tried to do good things here. Why should this happen to me?”
Being caught in administrative processing seems to be an increasing problem; so much so, the American Immigration Lawyers Association recently started a federal litigation task force to try to resolve some cases that are interminably delayed.
“Historically, the litigation whereby you’re suing the U.S. State Department is an absolute last resort, and it was here, too; but I think that going forward in the current era, mandamus and other federal litigation is going to be a more frequently-used tool,” Harris said.
Two months after returning, Rahimi and Schuman are still adjusting – but are thankful for – life back together.
“I appreciate things a lot more; just, like, waking up and can just check Adam is there, and the cat is usually on my head,” Rahimi said. “I feel so, so alive.”
Harris said suing the federal government is usually a last resort move, because it typically costs more money and time. She said congressional support is always welcome, but seems to be having less of an effect these days.
The State Department refused to comment when we asked about the threat of more lawsuits.