United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
FATMATA BANGURA, ET AL. Plaintiffs,
MATTHEW G. WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, ET AL., Defendants.
M. HILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' and
Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgement pursuant to
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Momoh Bangura ("Momoh"} is a native and citizen of
Sierra Leone, who first came to the United States in 2004.
Momoh married Lashonna Baylor ("Baylor") in 2005.
While they were married, Baylor submitted an 1-130 petition
on behalf of Momoh with United States Citizenship and
Immigration Services ("USCIS"). The couple
divorced, and the petition was withdrawn. USCIS had not made
a determination on the petition at the time it was withdrawn.
2013, Momoh married plaintiff Fatama Bangura
("Fatama"). Fatmata filed an 1-130 petition on
behalf of Momoh. USCIS denied Fatama's petition to have
the agency classify Momah as her "immediate
relative" for immigration purposes. USCIS concluded that
Momoh had previously entered into a fraudulent marriage with
Baylor, and thus was ineligible for this classification
pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §, . 11549(c). Plaintiffs appealed
to the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"), who
affirmed USCIS's decision, holding that the agency did
not err in its fraudulent marriage conclusion. The BIA held:
"The fact that there is this evidence of fraud, together
with the lack of persuasive evidence of a bona fide marriage
to the beneficiary's first wife, such as joint assets and
a joint resident, supports the finding that the beneficiary
and his first wife committed marriage fraud and married for
the sole purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit for him.
The petitioner's arguments and evidence concerning the
validity of the beneficiary's current marriage are not
relevant if the evidence of the prior marriage fraud cannot
filed suit in this Court seeking reversal of the BIA's
decision. Plaintiffs filed its Motion for Summary Judgement
on November 28, 2018 and Defendants responded in opposition
with its own Motion for Summary Judgment on December 18,
2018. Upon review of the record, this Court affirms the
BIA's decision, finding Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgement should be granted.
reviewing the BIA's decision, this Court may only
overturn a decision if it finds the agency's decision is
"arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or
otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. §
706(2) (A). If the Court finds there is a rational basis in
the record to support the agency's conclusion, this Court
must affirm the decision. This type of review is "highly
deferential, with a presumption in favor of finding the
agency action valid." Ohio Valley Entvl. Coal v.
Aracoma Coal Co., 556 F.3d 177, 192 (4th Cir. 2009).
order to conclude a marriage was fraudulent, the BIA must
find that the USCIS identified "substantial and
probative evidence" of invalidity. Cassell v.
Napolitano, 2014 WL 1303497, at *7 (N.D. 111. Mar. 31,
2014). If USCIS identifies evidence of a fraudulent marriage,
the spouse then has the burden to produce sufficient evidence
to overcome the agency's conclusion. Matter of
Phillis, 15 I&N Dec. 385, 386 (BIA 1975). If USCIS
discovers information related to marriage fraud, the agency
issues a Notice of Intent to Deny ("NOID") no the
applicant. The applicant then has an opportunity to respond
to rebut the information and present information on her own
behalf. USCIS then determines whether the petition should be
approved. If denied, the applicant can appeal to the BIA.
argue that the USCIS record does not contain sufficient
evidence to provide a rational basis on which to conclude
that Momoh's prior marriage to Baylor was fraudulent.
Plaintiffs contend that Baylor's statement was false and
manufactured unfairly by USCIS officials, ten years after the
couple divorced. However, Baylor's statement constitutes
substantial evidence of prior marriage fraud. The record
indicates that Baylor's statement was made during the
normal course of USCIS's investigation into whether Momoh
had previously entered into a fraudulent marriage.
Baylor's statement was signed and given under oath and
stated that Momoh agreed to pay her $10, 000 once he received
his green card. There is no evidence that USCIS manipulated,
or manufactured Baylor's statement as Plaintiffs'
suggest. Furthermore, Plaintiffs' argue that Baylor had a
grudge against Momoh, which was her motivation for making a
false statement to USCIS. However, credibility determinations
are for BIA to decide, not this Court. Gonahasa v.
INS, 181 F.3d 538, 542 (4th Cir. 1999).
decision, the BIA noted that it is the agency's duty to
investigate past relationships in determining whether to
grant or deny an 1-130 petition, rejecting Plaintiffs
argument that the agency had abused it discretion in
investigating a marriage from 10 years ago. This Court
agrees. The relevant statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1154(b) and
(c), states that an 1-130 petition shall not be issued if the
agency finds the alien entered into a previous fraudulent
marriage. The Plaintiffs seems to suggest that the agency
must have made this determination at the time the supposed
fraudulent marriage occurred, 10 years ago in this case.
However, USCIS "may rely on any relevant evidence,
including evidence having its origin in prior USCIS
proceedings involving the" alien in assessing I-130
petitions. Matter of Tawfik, 20 I&N Dec. 166,
167 (BIA 1990). In this case, evidence of Momoh's
marriage to Baylor and the couple's 1-130 petition was in
the record, and USCIS acted within its discretion in
investigating the marriage to determine whether it was
fraudulent. For these reasons, the agency did not abuse its
discretion in investigating and determining Momoh previously
entered into a fraudulent marriage with Baylor.
further argue that they did not have an opportunity to
respond to Baylor's statement during the administrative
proceedings, arguing lack of due process. However, the record
indicates that Plaintiffs received Baylor's statement as
part of the NOID and submitted a response, including several
affidavits on behalf on their case. Plaintiffs also addressed
Baylor's statement in their petition to the BIA, citing
an affidavit Momoh submitted to the USCIS verifying he had a
bona fide marriage to Baylor. The BIA did not find
Plaintiffs' affidavits or other arguments sufficient to
overcome the substantial and probative evidence USCIS
produced in concluding Momoh's prior marriage to Baylor
Court finds that BIA's decision was not arbitrary,
capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in
accordance with law, and that there was substantial evidence
in the record that the marriage between Momoh and Baylor was
fraudulent. The agency had a rational basis in the record to
conclude that Momoh engaged in at least one prior fraudulent
marriage, and therefore, Fatmata's subsequent 1-130 on
behalf of Momoh was properly denied.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary
Judgement should be denied and Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment should ...