Submitted: October 18, 2017
Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration
LOKEN, MURPHY, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.
Sagoe, a native and citizen of Ghana, entered the United
States in May 2000 as the nonimmigrant fiancée of
United States citizen Samuel Lassor. Sagoe and Lassor married
in July 2000, and she was granted lawful permanent resident
status on a conditional basis. In December 2002, Sagoe and
Lassor petitioned to remove the conditions. In September
2007, after extensive investigation, the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) denied the petition and terminated
Sagoe's permanent resident status, finding that she
failed to establish that the marriage was bona fide and not
entered into primarily to secure an immigration benefit.
See 8 U.S.C. § 1186a(c)(3)(C). DHS then
commenced removal proceedings. After an evidentiary hearing,
the immigration judge (IJ) upheld the termination of
permanent resident status and ordered Sagoe removed. The
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed. Sagoe petitions
for review of the BIA's final order of removal. We
conclude that substantial evidence supports the agency's
decision and therefore deny the petition for review. See
Abuya v. Sessions, 873 F.3d 650, 652 (8th Cir. 2017)
(standard of review).
The Statutory Framework.
alien who marries a U.S. citizen may be granted permanent
resident status on a conditional basis. 8 U.S.C. §§
1151(b)(2)(A)(i), 1154(a)(1)(A)(i), 1186a(a)(1). To remove
the conditions, the alien and U.S.-citizen spouse must timely
file a joint Form I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions on
Residence. In support, the couple must submit facts and
information showing that "the qualifying marriage . . .
was not entered into for the purpose of procuring an
alien's admission as an immigrant, " 8 U.S.C.
§§ 1186a(c)(1)(A), (d)(1)(A)(i)(III), and must
appear for an interview before a DHS officer, §
1186a(c)(1)(B). "If the Secretary of Homeland Security
determines that such facts and information are not true, the
Secretary . . . shall terminate the permanent resident status
of an alien spouse." § 1186a(c)(3)(C). An alien
whose permanent resident status is terminated is deportable.
§ 1227(a)(1)(D)(i). If the alien spouse seeks review of
the Secretary's determination in removal proceedings, DHS
must establish, "by a preponderance of the evidence,
that the facts and information described in subsection
[§ 1186a(d)(1)] and alleged in the [I-751] petition are
not true with respect to the qualifying marriage."
prove that a marriage was entered into to "procur[e] an
alien's admission as an immigrant, " DHS must
establish the couple did not intend "to establish a life
together at the time they were married." Abuya,
873 F.3d at 652 (quotation omitted). "Though the
couple's intent at the outset of the marriage is the
relevant question, when assessing the couple's intent,
courts look to both the period before and after the
marriage." Id. at 653 (quotation omitted).
Evidence of intent can take many forms, including listing
one's spouse "on insurance policies, property
leases, income tax forms, or bank accounts . . . [and] other
evidence regarding courtship, wedding ceremony, shared
residence and experiences." Matter of Laureano,
19 I. & N. Dec. 1, *3 (BIA 1983). Whether Sagoe's
marriage to Lassor was a sham is a question of fact.
Abuya, 873 F.3d at 652. "[A]dministrative
findings of fact are conclusive unless any reasonable
adjudicator would be compelled to conclude to the
contrary." 8 U.S.C. § 1252(b)(4)(B); see Hassen
v. Mukasey, 534 F.3d 927, 929 (8th Cir. 2008).
Factual and Procedural Background.
The Initial Agency Decision.
entered the United States on May 13, 2000, arriving in New
York on a K-1 fiancée visa and staying in New Jersey
four days with Theodore Kudayah, whom she described as a
family friend, before joining Lassor in Minnesota. Sagoe and
Lassor married in a courthouse in Stillwater, Minnesota on
July 14, 2000; no family or friends attended. In December
2002, Sagoe and Lassor filed an I-751 petition to have
Sagoe's conditional status removed. The couple separated
in February 2003. In November 2003, DHS's predecessor
agency issued an I-751 Notice of Intent stating that the
evidence submitted with their petition "is not
sufficient to warrant favorable consideration" and
requesting additional documents "showing joint ownership
of assets and joint responsibility for liabilities."
Lassor died in December 2003 with the I-751 petition pending.
Lassor's death, Margaret Abraham, Lassor's sister who
also lived in Minnesota, made the funeral arrangements and
was appointed personal representative of Lassor's estate.
In early 2004, Sagoe claimed to be Lassor's surviving
spouse, and Abraham contacted immigration authorities,
alleging that Sagoe and Lassor's marriage was a sham and
forwarding a copy of Lassor's death certificate issued in
December 2003 that listed him as "never married."
In June 2004, Sagoe appeared for an I-751 petition interview
with DHS Adjudications Officer Jennifer Skwira. Sagoe
submitted an amended death certificate issued in March 2004
that listed Lassor as married to Pauline Sagoe. Skwira
testified that she believed this discrepancy warranted
additional questioning and then undertook a comprehensive
investigation into Sagoe and Lassor's marriage. In
September 2007, the Field Office Director issued a letter
advising Sagoe that the I-751 petition was denied. The
lengthy letter summarized the results of the agency's
record included a letter to immigration authorities that
Lassor drafted a month before marrying Sagoe, but never sent,
stating that "I wish to withdraw my affidavit of
support" for Sagoe because she had experienced a
"change of heart, " rejected his requests to move
in with him, and concluded that marrying him was "out of
the question" because of "irreconcilable
Skwira spoke on the phone with Edward Opong, a childhood
friend of Lassor identified by Abraham. Opong stated that
when he visited Lassor in 2000 he learned Sagoe had refused
to marry Lassor. Sagoe paid Lassor $7, 000 to file
immigration papers that would enable her to obtain a green
card, then wanted nothing more to do with Lassor. She
complained to Opong that Lassor demanded more money to follow
through with the arrangement. Opong also described the
couple's problem-ridden and argumentative relationship,
describing a heated argument about the ...