By Charles Wheeler
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a sponsored alien bears no burden to show that he or she is seeking employment in order to obtain support from the sponsor. Liu v. Mund, No. 11-1453 (7th Cir. July 12, 2012). The sponsor – the person who executed an I-864, Affidavit of Support, and filed it so that the family member could obtain LPR status – is required to maintain the sponsored alien at 125 percent of the poverty income guidelines. The contractual requirements can be satisfied in certain designated ways (e.g., naturalization, death, obtaining 40 qualifying quarters), but cannot end through divorce of the sponsor and the alien spouse. This has resulted in cases brought by the sponsored alien against the sponsor in order to enforce the affidavit’s requirements, even if the alien spouse is not entitled to spousal support under state law.
The only issue before the appellate court was whether the sponsored alien was obligated to “mitigate damages” before seeking support from the sponsor pursuant to the I-864. In this case the alien had not sought employment and was seeking the full amount of the sponsor’s financial obligation, or about $13,500/year. The sponsor was relying on established rules in contract law that require the party bringing the action to try to reduce the amount of damages incurred. The court held for the alien, however, and refused to read into the law a requirement that the sponsored alien be actively seeking employment. The court found that the goal of the statute was to prevent the admission of aliens who might become public charges in the future. This goal was best served, according to the court, by not imposing additional burdens on the sponsored alien. Instead, by making the obligation air-tight, it might force sponsors to be more prudent before entering into these contracts.