(CN) – The government lacks strong evidence that a Palestinian couple got married in Israel before tying the knot in the United States, the 6th Circuit ruled, halting the couple’s deportation.
A three-judge panel in Cincinnati reversed a removal order against Nabil and Sawsan Hassan, who insisted that their marriage was not finalized until their April 1995 wedding at a mosque in Michigan two weeks after they entered the United States.
Nabil had been granted a visa as the unmarried child of a legal permanent resident, his mother. Sawsan was only eligible for legal status as Nabil’s wife.
Government officials said the couple was already married in Israel before entering the United States. An immigration officer who investigated their case said the Israeli Ministry of the Interior had an official record of the Hassans’ marriage.
Finding the government’s claims credible, the immigration judge ordered the Hassans removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.
On appeal, the Hassans argued that the immigration judge was biased by her previous role as chief counsel for the Department of Homeland Security.
They also insisted that their marriage was never finalized in Israel, as Muslim marriages involve four steps. In the third step, called Kateb al Ketab, future spouses draft and sign a marriage contract, copies of which are given to the father of one of the families, and filed with the Sharia court and the civil records department.
The Hassans said the government assumed they were married based on this third step, though they were not officially wed until the ceremony in Michigan.
The federal appeals court agreed that the government failed to adequately rebut testimony about Muslim marriage customs.
“[T]he government did not offer clear and convincing evidence that petitioners had completed the steps required for a Muslim marriage under Sharia law before entering the United States,” Judge Cornelia Kennedy wrote.
The court also rejected the government’s claim that Nabil is removable because he falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen on a loan application.
Turning to the judicial bias claim, the panel said the immigration judge’s former role as a government immigration attorney “does not, in itself, amount to a procedural defect.”
The court upheld dismissal of the recusal claim, but reversed on the removability findings. It sent the case back to the immigration board, “so that it may quash the removal order and terminate the removal proceedings against petitioners.”