Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,
I read your columns in The Gleaner and have learned a lot from them. I am now in a position where I need your advice.
My father filed for my sisters (principal beneficiaries under the petition) and their children (derivative beneficiaries) to immigrate to the United States (US). One sister and her children 'got through' to immigrate last year, and since my father is retired and not earning any income, I signed the Affidavit of Support, thereby ensuring that this sister and her kids could immigrate.
As sometimes happens, unfortunately, some family members who come to the US to live pose problems for their hosts (such as me) - totally different values and attitudes, not wanting to work or attend school, kids with behavioural problems, among other issues. I am so fed up with my current situation that I feel the need to rescind my offer of support. So I need your advice on how I could go about terminating my obligation under the Affidavit of Support. I want these people out of my life! Please advise me.
The situation that you find yourself in is quite unfortunate, but not unheard of. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), and this law has impacted millions of immigrants since. The section of IIRAIRA that impacted the Affidavit of Support (AOS) was imposed in 1997 and changed the rules to require the person who signs an AOS to be obligated to support the immigrant until he or she becomes a US citizen or can be credited with 40 quarters of work in the US.
IIRAIRA also made the AOS a contract that can be enforced against you the sponsor in a court of law. Additionally, if the immigrant happens to receive federal, state or local means tested benefits to which he or she is not entitled, the government agency can seek reimbursement from the sponsor, and there is a civil penalty if the sponsor fails to advise the government when he or she changes his or her address.
This has made the AOS a burdensome document, and thousands of persons all over the world have been unable to migrate because sponsors and potential joint sponsors have refused to sign the AOS once they realise the onerous obligations attached to the document. Unfortunately, there is no procedure to rescind your obligation under the AOS. It even survives divorce if you had sponsored a spouse.
You didn't indicate whether your sister and her children were actually living with you, or whether they were just trying to get money out of you. Depending on your particular situation, you may want to call their bluff, i.e. not give them money if you are doing that, or tell them to leave your home. Keep in mind that this may lead to a lawsuit. If you decide to go this route, you should consult with an attorney to research what, if any, defences you may have for breaking the contract, based on your specific circumstances. However, if your family does obtain government benefits, you would have a much harder if not impossible, time of not repaying the government.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal and personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator, and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org