Our Client of the Month for March 2017 is Torng Eang, a 17-year-old boy from Cambodia who has been separated from his mother for almost his entire life. When Torng was two years old, his mother fled Cambodia in fear for her life after suffering years of abuse and violence. Following her entry to the United States, Torng’s mother sought lawful status; however, given the backlogs before USCIS and the immigration courts, it took her over 15 years to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Finally, based on her marriage to her United States citizen husband, and with the help of Benach Collopy, Torng’s mother was granted permanent resident status in 2016, permitting her to remain in the United States permanently with her U.S. citizen husband and their two U.S. citizen daughters.
However, this mother remained separated from her son in Cambodia. Rather than waiting for his mother to become a permanent resident, Torng’s step-father petitioned for Torng as his step-son in 2013 so that both Torng and his mother could seek status simultaneously. Under the U.S. immigration laws for petitioning for relatives, step-children are treated the same as children, as long as the family relationship was formed before the step-child turned 18 and the step-parent’s relationship with the biological parent is bona fide. Thus, a step-parent petition would be much faster for Torng than waiting for his mother to become a permanent resident and then petition for him. Due to the family-based preference system for immigrants, that process would have taken much longer because there are waiting lines for visas for children of lawful permanent residents. To the contrary “immediate relatives” of United States citizens, including step-children of U.S. citizens like Torng, do not have to wait in line as part of the preference system for family-based immigration. They are prioritized and only have to wait the time it takes for the U.S. immigration agencies to process the family-based petition and immigrant visa application.
When Torng’s step-father petitioned for him, he assumed that he would be able to join his mother in about 9 months to one year. However, it took over eight months for USCIS to approve Torng’s step-father’s petition on his behalf. It then took nearly two-and-a-half more years for the U.S. government to process his immigrant visa application, schedule his visa interview, and adjudicate his application. As if the long separation of Torng from his mother was not painful enough, the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia even challenged whether she was his mother and, without any basis for doubting the validity of the parent-child relationship, required that Torng and his mother undergo DNA testing. Of course, the DNA test results showed that she was his mother and, with zealous advocacy from Satsita Muradova and Dree Collopy, Torng was finally granted his visa. He is now a permanent resident of the United States and has been reunited with his mother, step-father, and two little sisters. Welcome home Torng!