One top-ranked Canadian-born ice skater wants to bring America the gold, but immigration authorities say she’s not special enough to deserve a path to citizenship.
Now she’s suing to overturn the denial, and her lawyers say the rejection shows how the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is becoming more “denial oriented” on employment visas bids under President Donald Trump.
Christina Carreira is one half of a team that’s lit the ice on fire. She and her partner, Anthony Ponomarenko, are the world’s top junior ice dance team and have racked up 10 medals — including four gold medals — in international competition since 2016. She’s currently in the country legally on a visa that allows her to train here temporarily.
In May, the 18-year-old who trains and temporarily resides in Michigan, petitioned to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code. Gaining such status under the EB-1 visa would allow for Carreira to seek legal permanent residency status in a matter of months. The eventual goal is citizenship, which would allow her to compete under the American flag in Olympic games, her lawyers noted.
With her eyes on the 2022 Winter Olympics, the ice dancer submitted stacks of paperwork in support of her application, including experts from the ice skating and Olympic world saying she was truly extraordinary.
Both Michael Piston and Susan Fortino-Brown, who represented Carreira in the underlying proceedings, said they’ve been seeing the decision quality on employment-based visas deteriorate since Trump’s April 2017 “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.
What’s extraordinary, Carreira’s lawyers say, is that her petition was denied. “This particular decision, it’s almost breathtaking in its stupidity,” Piston told MarketWatch.
But the evidence left the decider cold.
The awards “were not directly awarded to you,” the August decision said. “They were awarded for your performance as part of a sports team…[W]e do not consider such honors to be a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in the field of endeavor, because it is limited to members of that association and participants of those competitions.”
Carreira’s lawsuit, filed Sunday in District of Columbia federal court, said the reasoning was “entirely irrational.”
The rejection’s line of reasoning, her lawyers argued, would make rarified achievements like the Heisman Trophy and an NFL Most Valuable Player awards no big deal. After all, the suit claimed, trophy winners were confined to members of accredited schools and MVP winners had to play in the small ranks of pro football players.
Adjudicators accused of acting like opposing counsel
Trump’s executive order was meant to address concerns over H-1B visa abuse and keep a tight leash on government agency waivers on “Buy America” policies. Carreira is applying for a different type of visa, the EB-1 visa, her lawyers noted.
H-1B visa applications have been dropping. The federal government admits about 85,000 immigrants under the program. Around the executive order’s signing, administration officials said they received 99,000 applications during that fiscal year, reduced from the 236,000 applications received the year earlier.
Even though immigration officials in past administrations weren’t the fairest, according to Piston, now “adjudicators are no longer acting like adjudicators, but opposing counsels.”
“Evidence submitted was completely ignored, Fortino-Brown said.
“It seems as though there is an interest in finding a way to deny these petitions,” she added. “In my practice, this has regrettable become more and more common under the Trump administration.”
In some of her other recent cases for different employment visas, she’s seen rejections for a computer analyst and a mobile app product manager.
A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman said the agency could not comment on pending litigation.
In a statement, Carreira’s parents said their daughter and Ponomarenko “have been proudly representing the United States of America at many different international events” and winning various medals in the process.
“We don’t understand the reason why the USCICS is not giving any recognition to those awards and the fact that they are the 2018 U.S. Junior National Champions and denying Christina the ability to represent the United States at the next Olympic Games.”
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