Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thai administrative divorce in U.S. causes major headaches

The article below describes a case in which a Thai marriage was purportedly dissolved at a Thai consulate in the U.S. Decades later the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asserted that the divorce would not be recognized in the United States and demanded that the parties be deported. Although this case ultimately had a happy ending many similar cases do not.

This is why international divorce cases need to be handled correctly.

By AMY TAXIN Associated Press Writer

CORONA, Calif.—A Thai family that faced the threat of deportation because of a 1975 divorce proceeding will not be forced to leave the U.S. after living here for nearly four decades, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

Pai Ciesiolka and her two grown sons were called to a deportation hearing this year when immigration authorities refused to recognize her divorce and subsequent remarriage to an American citizen that helped them earn green cards.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official told a lawyer for Ciesiolka's family Friday that the government would drop the deportation proceedings, a day after AP inquired about the case, family attorney Carl Shusterman said.

The 71-year old retiree and her children are still waiting to hear whether the government will accept their applications to become U.S. citizens, which they filed in the 1980s and 1990s. "It was a big relief, it was a big weight," said Kevin Promsiri, Ciesiolka's 41-year old son who has lived in California since he was 3. "I know it is only the first step, it has still not been resolved yet. But this deportation part is such a relief because now we can fight it without the fear of being deported."

In 1971, Ciesiolka left Thailand with her two young sons to join her husband, who was pursuing a business degree on a student visa in the United States. When the couple split four years later, they went to the Thai consulate in Los Angeles to get a divorce—an administrative proceeding the consulate still offers today. "Married in Thailand, I thought you had to be divorced like a Thai," said Ciesiolka, who lives near Corona with Kevin. She remarried a Colorado man that year and returned to Thailand to introduce him to her family and apply for a green card at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. Once the papers were approved, she flew back to the United States and obtained green cards for her two sons.

The second marriage fizzled four years later. But the family said they continued to renew their green cards every decade as required by U.S. immigration authorities and lived here legally with no problem until they applied for citizenship. Ciesiolka's elder son Andy Promsiri first applied in 1983 and never heard back. He resubmitted paperwork a decade later and was ready to take his oath of allegiance. But immigration authorities called the day before the ceremony and said there was a problem with his paperwork and he shouldn't bother showing up. "My heart was just broken," said Promsiri, now a 48-year old college financial aid adviser.

After several more attempts at citizenship, the family received a formal notice in March that immigration authorities didn't recognize the consular divorce and considered Ciesiolka married to two men at the same time, making her ineligible for a green card.

Jeremy Morley, a New York attorney who focuses on international family law, said problems with overseas divorces often arise when someone applies to U.S. immigration authorities for citizenship or another benefit.