Bahraini Princess Receives Immigrant Visa in Mexico

by Jonathan Montag

Since the airing of the CBS 48 Hours story on July 12, 2001, about Meriam and Jason Johnson, the Bahraini princess and her (former) United States Marine husband, people have been asking why Mrs. Johnson had to go to Mexico to receive a permanent resident visa rather than adjusting status in the United States. First, be advised that I am the attorney who accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Johnson to Juarez, Mexico, to receive the immigrant visa.

As the 48 Hours story and the media accurately portrayed, Mrs. Johnson was apprehended at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in November 1999. Immigration authorities knew she was coming. When she arrived, she was placed in removal proceedings and paroled into the United States after a credible fear interview. This made her an arriving alien defined at 8 C.F.R. 1.1(q) as "an applicant for admission coming or attempting to come into the United States at a port-of-entry.... An arriving alien remains such even if paroled pursuant to section 212(d)(5) of the Act."

An arriving alien in removal proceedings cannot adjust status either in Immigration Court or with the INS. This is because the INS.s regulations state, "The following categories of aliens are ineligible to apply for adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident alien under section 245 of the Act: Any arriving alien who is in removal proceedings pursuant to section 235(b)(1) or section 240 of the Act." 8 C.F.R. ' 245.1(c). The relief available to Mrs. Johnson in Immigration Court was the humanitarian relief of asylum, withholding of removal, and withholding and deferral of removal under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Had the INS dropped the charges against Mrs. Johnson, she would not have been in removal proceedings any longer and could have adjusted status. However, as the 48 Hours report indicated, the INS would not drop the charges in its exercise of discretion. Of course, not being allowed to adjust status did not mean that Mrs. Johnson could not immigrate. She did not dare return to her own country to immigrate, as she feared she would be killed if she returned to Bahrain. When the United States Consulate in Juarez, Mexico, agreed to take the case, Mrs. Johnson, through her counsel, arranged to go to Mexico to immigrate to the United States. This is the legal background for why Mrs. Johnson had to leave the United States in order to immigrate to the United States. By immigrating, she avoided the stress and uncertainty that are part of any asylum trial. Also, because of the inordinate delays in obtaining permanent residence after being granted asylum, she became a permanent resident several years earlier than had she sought to adjust status from asylee to permanent resident.

One final note. The last scene of the 48 Hours report show Mrs. Johnson's taxi crossing into the United States city of El Paso after she received her I-94 evidencing permanent residence. The report made it sound as if all the occupants of the taxi stated that they were United States citizens. Rest assured that three of the four occupants in the taxi, her husband, Jason, a writer accompanying her, and me, all indicated that we were United States citizens. Mrs. Johnson, on the other hand, did not. She instead showed her I-94 identifying herself as a permanent resident of the United States.

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