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Grammar Takes Precedence in Immigration Classification

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A foreign national who contends she was abused by her American husband can pursue citizenship after a federal judge in Chicago ruled that the fact the couple did not live together after they were married is not enough to deny a claim of priority status. Citing the rules of English grammar alongside case law, US District Court Judge Manish Shah wrote that a literal interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act means the woman may apply for citizenship as an abused spouse. Immigration officials and those from the Department of Homeland Security denied her petition for an I-360 classification as a ‘special immigrant’ and requested a lawsuit against them be dismissed.

The couple were engaged in the Philippines and lived together for seven weeks in Connecticut before the woman moved for a job to the Windy City, where they married in 2014 and with the husband returning to the East Coast. According to the judge, the use by Congress of the past-perfect tense in writing the law does not specify that cohabitation need to have taken place after the ceremony. In allowing the I-360 classification that in part embraces battered spouses under the Violence Against Women Act, Shah wrote that it is enough to show that abuse took place during the marriage.