The Federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Revives a Ghanaian Man’s Application for Naturalization

Obtaining citizenship is an important goal for many immigrants. If you’re seeking to do that, be advised that there are many hoops you must jump through and hurdles you must clear. It can be challenging to understand all of the requirements the law imposes upon you. Retaining a knowledgeable Maryland immigration and citizenship lawyer can help you ensure that your application satisfies all the necessary legal and procedural demands.

As noted above, the citizenship process can be complicated and any of a number of things may potentially represent a stumbling block. For one citizenship applicant, the stumbling block he had to go all the way to the federal Court of Appeals to clear was a divorce case in which he wasn’t even a party.

B.B. was a Ghanaian woman who married K.K.G. in Ghana in 1996. The husband secured a diversity visa and the couple moved to Virginia in June 1999. In late 1999, the marriage broke down and the heads of each of their households performed a “ceremonial divorce” in “accordance with Ghanaian customary law” on Jan. 6, 2000. In 2001, a Ghanaian court entered a judgment affirming the validity of the couple’s divorce.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, the wife met M.A., another citizen and native of Ghana. M.A. and B.B. married in Virginia in the spring of 2001. The wife filed a Form I-130 and the USCIS granted the husband lawful permanent resident status.

In 2014, M.A. applied for citizenship. The USCIS turned him down. Its position was that, because neither the wife nor her first husband was present in (or living in) Ghana at the time of their divorce, the Commonwealth of Virginia would not recognize that divorce as valid.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly control federal cases in Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas) concluded that the wife’s Ghanaian divorce was valid under the legal concept of “comity.”

Comity is the legal concept in which courts of one jurisdiction respect and give effect to the laws and court rulings of another jurisdiction. In Virginia, invoking comity requires proof that: (1) the other state/country “had jurisdiction to enforce its order,” (2) the law of that other state/country is “reasonably comparable,” (3) the judgment was not obtained with the aid of fraud, and (4) enforcing the other state/country’s judgment would not violate public policy.

A majority of the 4th Circuit panel concluded that even though neither the wife nor her first husband was present in Ghana at the time of their divorce and neither resided in Ghana at the time of the divorce (something that would never pass legal muster if a couple was seeking a divorce in Virginia,) the rules of comity favored recognition of the Ghanaian court’s divorce judgment and M.A. was entitled to have his application for naturalization granted.

The possibility of obtaining citizenship can be an extremely exciting opportunity for an immigrant. If you’re in that position, don’t let procedural errors or other application defects delay or derail your trek toward citizenship. The experienced Maryland immigration and citizenship attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC can help you avoid those problems. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation so that we can assist you in making your transition as smooth as possible.

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