2001 : Bruce gets L1 for 1 year Feb 2001 to Feb 2002
Dianne gets L1 for 1 year April 2001 to April 2002
2002 : Bruce gets L1 renewal for 1 year Feb 2002 to Feb 2003
Dianne gets L1 renewal for 3 years April 2002 to April 2005
2003 : Bruce gets L1 renewal for 3 years Feb 2003 to Feb 2006
2004 : In September, Attorney Shante Smith is appointed to handle the Stewart's immigration matters.
The Shante Smith Era
2004 : 10 December : Shante Smith advises that we should proceed with our application for permanent residence and that it would be better to apply for Dianne rather than Bruce, because "Dianne will go out of status on 14 April 2005, whereas Bruce is still okay until 15 February 2006". Shante specifically advised that by filing for permanent residence, it was no longer necessary to apply for an extension to Dianne's L1-visa as she would now be "in process" in converting from "non-immigrant" to "immigrant" status.
2005 : 31 January : Shante Smith advise that Dianne's permanent residence application was progressing as planned and that we had nothing to worry about. 10 March : We met with Shante and voiced our concerns about Dianne's L1 visa expiring on April 14 and the fact that we had received no positive information about her permanent residence application. Again Shante assured us that there was nothing to worry about, that extending the L-1 status was not necessary, but that if it would make us feel more comfortable, we could pay her $500 plus a $1000 premium processing fee to get an answer in 15 days. Because of the urgency of keeping Dianne "in-status", we paid this money to Shante Smith. 12 April : The INS rejected Dianne's permanent residence application and refunded the premium processing fee, according to Shante on the grounds that Dianne was not the primary applicant in the Stewart family and that Bruce should have been the applicant. 15 April : Dianne is now out of status. Shante assures us that since the application for extension had been timely filed, Dianne was "in process" and thus quite legal. 2 May : Shante advises that we should commence proceedings to have Bruce apply for permanent residence. 10 June : For our Permanent Residence application we have our fingerprints taken at Charlotte FBI for our South African Police Clearance 29 July : The Stewart family undergo's full medical examinations in Charlotte, including an AIDS and Syphilis test on our 15-year old daughter, all at a cost of $1000. 1 August : Shante and Dianne are due to travel to Charleston SC for, what Shante described as "Dianne's permanent residence interview". We were confused about this, as we had been led to understand that Dianne's permanent residence application had been rejected when the premium processing fee was refunded to Bruce. Shante however told us that somehow, Dianne's application had been re-instated and at the premium processing pace! However, at 2am on August 2, Shante calls Dianne to advise that the appointment in Charleston had been cancelled. 1 August : Bruce and the children have traveled to South Africa for business & medical reasons. Di cannot join them as she is still awaiting her L1 extension. 2 August : Shante advises Dianne that her L1-visa extension application had been denied because of Shante's failure to provide requested information. According to the INS, they had mailed Shante early in April 2005 about this. Shante admitted that she lost the letter. 5 September : Shante files an appeal against the denial of Dianne's L1-visa which is immediately granted. 7 September : Email from Shante Smith to Bruce : "I will send you Dianne's approval of her L1 renewal via Fed-Ex". This is a blatant Lie!!!
2006 : 20 January : Shante advises that she has filed the required documents to apply for permanent residence for Bruce on the basis of Extraordinary Ability. 27 February : Shante provides a receipt for the filing of the Immigrant Petition for Alien Work of Extraordinary Ability. However, according to the Receipt, this was only filed earlier that same day on 27 February 2006 .... 12 days after my L1-visa had expired. Shante assures us that this is not a problem as we have been "in process" since we filed Dianne's permanent residence application in December 2004 9 March : Meeting with INS in Charlotte : We enquire about the status of our case and are advised that they know no more than can be obtained from the USCIS.gov website. 27 March : The USCIS sends Shante an "Intent to Deny" letter, requesting further information to support Bruce's Alien Worker Petition and stipulating a return date of April 27, 2006. 28 April : Dianne has appointment to meet with Shante at 3pm. When she arrives, Shante is not in office. Dianne sends a letter complaining to Shante about her dishonesty, unprofessionalism and failure to perform or deliver. 29 April : Bruce sends letter to Shante : "In view of your continued failure to professionally attend to our visa matters, your continued evasiveness and your blatant dishonesty, we hereby demand the return of all monies paid to you and the handing over of all files pertaining to our immigration matters." 1 May : Shante advises that she has submitted an application for Bruce on the basis of Extraordinary Ability and that her 'contact' in the INS office in Greer SC, allegedly a 'supervisor', confirmed "that there will be no problem with the application" and that of the "ten characteristics of Extraordinary Ability, Bruce easily meets seven of the characteristics, while the INS only requires three". Also that she has retained the services of Natalie Craven in SC to assist her with her immigration case-load. She advises that she has transferred our files to Natalie Craven who will use her influence with Congressman DeMint to fast-track our approval process. Bruce calls Natalie Craven to confirm this, only to be told by Ms Craven that she has nothing to do with our case at all and has not been in contact with Congressman DeMint. 10 May : Shante Smith gets Bruce and Dianne to sign the following authorization : "I Dianne Stewart, Alien number (blank), hereby authorize Nathalie M Craven, to transfer my immigration information to the office of Congressman DeMint, to investigate my immigration case with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and to relay information regarding my immigration case to my attorney, Nathalie M Craven. Signed Dianne Stewart". A similar letter is signed by Bruce Stewart. 31 May : Shante Smith submits to Bruce a receipt confirming Premium Processing of his Alien Worker petition. 23 June : In a phone call from Shante, Bruce is advised that his permanent residence has been approved and that the documentation will be issued on July 5. 31 July : We secure an appointment at the INS in Charlotte. We asked about our status and are told that INS Charlotte know no more than what is posted on the USCIS website. 10 August : Shante tells us that she has handed over our files to a Christopher Greene who has been asked to assist in the matter that his assistance will cut at least 2 weeks off the approval process. 14 August : Bruce talks with Christopher Greene, briefs him on the case and hears alarm-bells in Greene's voice. An urgent appointment was scheduled for the following afternoon, and Chris Greene emphasizes the importance of getting the files from Shante. 14 August : Urgent fax to Shante Smith from Bruce : I have spoken with Christopher Greene. He says he does NOT have my file (although you said he does.) He needs to speak with you URGENTLY about my case as he is VERY CONCERNED about whether you have acted correctly on my behalf.
The Chris Greene Era
2006 : 15 August : Shante calls Bruce and advises that Chris Greene is "perfectly satisfied with the way our case has been handled by me (Shante)" and that he is only going to help speed up the approval process. She confirms that he has all of our files. 15 August : While waiting in his reception area to meet with Chris Greene, Shante appears she has just met with Chris Greene. She assures us that there is no problem. That Chris Greene is perfectly happy with the way Shante has handled our case. 15 August : Chris Greene advises us that Shante Smith has messed up our case, that our whole family is here illegally, that if Dianne leaves the USA she will be barred from re-entry for 10 years, that if Bruce leaves the USA he will be barred from re-entry for 3 years, that Shante knows just enough about immigration matters to be really dangerous and that she could be criminally liable for representing herself as an attorney. 15 August : Shante Smith admits that she is totally at fault and that she will pay whatever fees are necessary to put right what she has made wrong and will sign a statement to this effect. She concedes that her business cannot afford to have this mess and her conduct become public knowledge, a rather clear indication that for her, it's business as usual. 18 August : At a meeting between Bruce, Chris Greene, Shante and her husband Randy and Shante's attorney Joan Larson, Shante admits that she is out of her depth in immigration matters and that she is closing down her immigration business. She further confirms that she will sign an affidavit to the effect that the collapse of our immigration matter was solely due to ignorance and negligence on the part of herself and her staff. Shante expresses concern about whether she will have to do "jail-time" for posing as an immigration attorney. Nov 9 : Stewarts file a comprehensive submission to the CIS in Vermont :
* I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
* I-539 Application to Extend / Change Nonimmigrant Status
* I-907 Premium Processing Fee
* Affidavits from Bruce Stewart, Sean Stewart, Attorney Chris Greene and Attorney Noel Tin testifying to a meeting with Shante Smith where she admitted culpability, admitted to practicing as an attorney without a license, admitted to lying to the Stewarts and accepting sole responsibility for our lapse of legal status.
* A statement from Shante Smith which she subsequently refused to sign on the grounds of self-incrimination.
2006 : Nov 21: CIS responds to the Stewarts : "The beneficiary's status expired on 02/02/06. This petition was filed on 11/09/06, almost 9 months later. It is the burden of the beneficiary to be aware of the laws & regulations governing his stay and abide by them. Please submit a statement explaining the delay in filing this application. Please note, it is the opinion of this service that incompetent counsel is not beyond the control of the beneficiary."
2006 : Nov 27 : Stewarts respond to CIS : The delay was caused by our understanding that our permanent residence had been approved on June 23, 2006. Not being immigration lawyers ourselves, we relied on an advertised lawyer who is an authorized CIS representative. This is not a case of us relying on incompetent counsel it is a case of criminal deceit, misrepresentation, forgery of federal documents and theft by false pretenses, perpetrated by an authorized CIS representative.
2006 : Dec 07 : CIS responds to the Stewarts : The CIS approves our I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker for Dec 2006 to Dec 2008, but refuses to condone our 'out of status' period and refuses to grant us an I-94 extension of stay. By implication, we are illegally here and must return to South Africa to apply for a visa to return to the USA. But because of the non-condonation of our 'out of status' period, we are prohibited from returning to the USA for 3 years (Bruce & children) and 10 years (Dianne), and can never apply for permanent residence. This decision from the CIS is not subject to appeal, but we can file a notice for a new hearing if we have new evidence to present. The deadline for this is Jan 7, 2007.
2006 : Dec 18 : Keep The Stewart's In Charlotte Website www.KeepTheStewartsInCharlotte.com goes live to get the word out and collect testimonials and to seek audiences with influential people.
2007 : Jan 5 : The Stewart's Immigration Attorney Chris Greene, Esq. submits new evidence to the CIS asking for a new hearing, requesting them to reconsider their decision and US Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC 9th District) provides a letter of support to go with the submission.
2007 : Jan 23 : We receive an L-1 visa Notice of Action for the family together with an I-94 allowing us to "travel" and which would normally mean we could return to the US. However the dates on this visa are now changed from the previous dates (Dec 06 - Dec 08) we received to Sept 06 until Sept 08 - leaving more than a six month gap in our L-1 visa life history (Feb 06 to Sept 06), which must have consecutive and valid dates from its inception to its conclusion after 7 years. If it has any gaps in it - the Consulate in SA is obliged to refuse a reentry visa to anyone who has had this lapse in status - rendering these visas useless to us. We believe this has been done on purpose to prevent us from returning to the US if we choose or are compelled to leave for any reason. We also find it peculiar that they have now changed the validity dates of the original visa we received in Dec 06 to September dates making the visa 3 months shorter. What should in fact happen is that the visa should be valid from 02/16/06 - 02/16/08 making the dates consecutive within our existing visa dates.
2007 : Jan 30 : We receive yet MORE visas - now with NEW dates that have reverted back to the first set of visas we received in Dec 06 - valid from Dec 06 to Dec 08.
2007 : Feb 09 : Chris Greene calls Senator Richard Burr's office for assistance in obtaining restoration of our status "nunc pro tunc" to February 2006
2007 : Feb 12 : Vermont CIS back-dates our visa to reflect no gaps in our status, valid from February 2006 until February 15, 2008. Bruce is back to L1 status and Dianne converts to L2 status.
2007 : Feb 16
We receive the NEW L-visas, dated February 16, 2006 - February 16 , 2008.
2007 : Mar 3 : We have completed our new medical exams and our applications for change of status from Non Immigrant to Immigrant Status are ready for submission by our attorney.
2007 : March 28 : All paperwork relating to our applications for Permanent Residence have been submitted to the USCIS. Now we wait.
2007 : May 24
The family goes to have Biometrics taken at the US CIS Processing office in Charlotte - fingerprints and photo's - the next step in the Permanent Residence application process.
2007 : June 25
The family receives what's called "Advanced Parole" documents to enable us to travel in and out of the US.
2007 : August 23 The US CIS requests further evidence with regard to our application for permanent residence. We are confused **, as the evidence they require, appears to be asking us to prove that we had a business in South Africa, that we were employed by the business in South Africa, and that Speed Reading International, Inc. is a subsidiary of the company in South Africa and that we are now employed by Speed Reading International, Inc. All of which was submitted and proved in September 2000 in support of our application for our L-1 visas and which has been re-submitted on numerous occasions with the ongoing renewals of our L-1 visas for the last 6 years. This is due on or before October 4, 2007. ** In hindsight, this becomes clear -- information submitted to one service center is NOT shared with other service centers. And our L1 visas were processed by Texas while our permanent residence application is processed by Nebraska ... and THEY DON"T SHARE INFORMATION!
2007 : October 4 The US CIS receives our response to their request for further information and we receive receipt of this documentation with a reply that we will get a response and decision in the next 60 days.
2008 : January 9 : [Receipt # LIN0712651424 (I-485 denial), LIN0712651401 (I-485 denial), LIN0712651194 (I-140 denial) LIN0712651480 (I-485 denial), LIN0712651460 (I-485 denial)]
We receive an email notification from the Nebraska US CIS office to say that all our applications for Permanent Residence in the United States, have been denied.
2008 : January 15 : Chris Greene receives the notification from Nebraska on the reasons for the denial of our application -- they do not consider Bruce to be an "Executive" and that we are not able to sustain ourselves in the US.
2008 : January 16 : After studying the denial document and much discussion with our attorney - he is of the opinion that this denial is nothing short of bizarre based on the reasons they have given.
2008 : January 21 : Our attorney sends our Notice of Appeal documents via Fed Ex to the US CIS in Lincoln, NE to appeal their decision to deny our Permanent Residence application.
2008 : January 24 : Bruce meets with Chris Greene to finalize the full submission of evidence to support our Notice of Appeal, filed on Monday January 21, 2008. This will be FedEx'd to the US CIS in Lincoln, NE today.
2008 : January 29 : We receive the tracking note for the delivery of our Notice of Appeal and it is signed by Mr Gerard Heinauer at the Lincoln, NE office of the US CIS, who made the determination to deny our application.
2008 : January 31 : Since the latest campaign to Keep the Stewart's in Charlotte started on January 18, 2008, we have had 2093 unique visitors to the website!
2008 : March 11 [Receipt # LIN0712651194] : US CIS advises that our appeal has been sent to the Administrative Appeals Office in Washington, DC, for review.
2008 : May 29 : Chris Greene is advised by the US CIS that we should have a decision on our Green Card Denial Appeal from them in 30 days now awaiting June 28.
2008 : July 3 : We receive a copy of a denial notice, not for our appeal, but for Dianne's application to extend her visa, filed by Shante Smith in December 2005 on an incorrect form. (Note that in Sept 2005, Shante emailed Bruce : "I will send you Dianne's approval of her L1 renewal via Fed-Ex".
2008 : 10 September : Chris Greene submits our case to the DHS Ombudsman as we have still not received a decision on our appeal.
2008 : 8 October : After having her Driver's License flagged by DHS for an investigation into her L2 status, DHS advises that Sarah can use her visa, Dec 06 - Dec 08, to renew her license, thus confirming the legality of our status until 5 December 2008
2008 : 21 October : The DHS Ombudsman advises that our case is still on appeal with the AAO and that the current processing time is 12 - 18 months from date of receipt (March 17, 2008). Since our final visa expires on Dec 5 2008, any decision from the AAO after this date will become "moot".
2008 : 3 November : Dianne and Martha Rea Calkins meet with Alice Torres from Congresswoman Sue Myrick's office.
2008 : 4 November : Chris Greene considers a Writ of Mandamus to force a decision on the appeal before any decision becomes "moot" on Dec 5, 2008
2008 : 5 November : Bruce prepares a document on the loop-holes and failures of the US Immigration system at the request of Alice Torres, together with this document summarizing the immigration events pertaining to the Stewarts over the past 7 years.
2008 : 2 December : The AAO dismisses our appeal and refers the case back to the Nebraska Service Center with a ruling that Bruce should never have been granted an L1-visa in 2001 because as the owner of the foreign parent company, he cannot be "employed" by the US subsidiary company. Attorneys we have spoken to don't understand this. 2008 : 4 December : Our attorney, Chris Greene, files a last-minute application for an L1-visa for Dianne. Pending a decision on this application, we are told that we're "in process" and can legally stay in the US, continue to own our home and business, continue to earn a living and continue to educate our children! If this application is successful, we have a little time to file a Motion to Reconsider the appeal dismissal. However, if this visa application is denied, we're history and go out-of-status immediately with little to no chance of recovery. 2008 : 5 December : The last of our visas expire. Bruce cannot apply for any further extentions as his L1 has now reached the end of its 7-year life-span. 2008 : 23 December : Bruce has a marathon strategy session with attorney Chris Greene and his father, Tim Greene, to explore possible solutions to this mess. The consensus is that it's now like 'pushing a piece of rope'. 2008 / 2009 : December / January : At the cost of a fair-sized forest, Bruce prepares a 900-page tome of evidence and case-law in support of our appeal / motion to reconsider / motion to reopen submission to the AAO. Chris Greene now has the onerous task of organizing this into a formal document for submission by the end of January 2009. 2009 : January 27 : The Nebraska Service Center jumps the gun and without waiting for our legal and evidentiary submission, refers our Motions to Reopen & Reconsider back to the AAO. As a result, we have to duplicate the work and submit the 900-page submission to both the AAO in DC and to the Nebraska Service Center.
2009 : January 31 : The 900-page Motion to Reopen and Motion to Reconsider the denial of the dismissal of the appeal against the denial of our application for permanent residence is filed simultaneously with the AAO in DC and the NE Service Center.
2009 : January 14 : The Vermont Service Center sends us a notice calling for "initial" evidence in support of Dianne's petition for the L1-B visa. We've heard of a request for "further" evidence, but never a request for 'initial' evidence. A closer reading reveals that Vermont wants information about Dianne's job in South Africa, her pay-slips for her work in South Africa, evidence that she has been working in South Africa for 1 year out of the past 3 years, and the position she has been offered in the USA. Clearly, Vermont is unaware that Dianne has had a visa before, or that she has been living and working in the USA since 2001. Since there is quite obviously some confusion about the Stewart case, we decide it to be expedient to submit evidence supporting every aspect of her visa petition. Another 800-page evidentiary and legal submission is being prepared. This is due on 16 February 2009.
2009 : February : Dianne is granted an L1-B visa, but nothing for Bruce, Sarah & Michael. So, notwithstanding the 800-page submission in support of her L1-B application, we send copies of all relevant documentation to prove that Dianne has had a husband for 21 years and 2 legal and legitimate children. On 30 March we receive L2 visas for Bruce, Sarah & Michael. We grab the first tickets to South Africa and set up an appointment with the US Consulate in Cape Town, where, on April 14, Dianne, Bruce & Michael are issued visas valid until 5 December 2011. Sarah had to remain in the USA, "hostage" to CMS and her 12th-grade end-of-school exams. Sarah is now the next hurdle to overcome - she turns 21 in October next year (2010). On that date, her L2 expires and she loses all benefit from our visas. She either has to leave the USA or convert to a J-Student Visa while in college, then an H-visa if offered employment after college and then Permanent Residence some 10 years down the road. All this can be avoided if we are able to secure Permanent Residence for our family before October 2010. The US-CIS is sitting on a 900-page submission in support of our case and we can only hope and pray for a miracle this time. (Bruce is already teaching speed-reading skills at the Pentagon and the US Navy. If only he could do the same for the US-CIS!!!)
The Big Question .. Quo Vadis?
Our daughter, Sarah Stewart, has been accepted into Greensboro College to sit for a degree in Stage Management & Theatrical Direction. However, being in L2 status, she does not have a Social Security number. This is posing problems with her college admission process and has precluded her from applying for a FAFSA student loan and from securing study-related employment to help pay her college fees. Even though Sarah has lived in the USA legally since 2001, without FAFSA she is treated as an international student and the college fees for international students are more than what we can afford. And she will only get a social security number once she has permanent residence.
This whole predicament is the result of the fraud perpetrated on us by bogus-attorney Shante Smith who stole our money and forged our permanent residence approval in 2006. That situation cost us almost two and a half years in our pursuit of permanent residence, which is the reason we have now run out of time.
We have agonized over the route to take to resolve our situation. We would very much prefer to do this all the "correct" way and to follow the laws and procedures set out by the legislature and to only resort to the extraordinary step of a Private Bill of Congress as a very last resort to stave off any potential deportation.
However, as can be seen from the above, time is of the essence. We have little doubt that IF we can get the AAO to adjudicate on our Motion to Reopen / Reconsider as a matter of urgency and within weeks rather than months or years, we will prevail without going out of status and without having to resort to the extraordinary alternative of a Private Bill of Congress.