There was the husband who knew how many stepkids he had but didn’t remember their names.

And there was the guy who swore he slept with his wife every night, but was in the dark about the oxygen tank by her bedside.

Immigration officers in New York City’s Stokes unit — who spend their days interrogating couples applying for green cards based on marriage — have heard it all.

“Life is stranger than fiction,” officer Barbara Felska told the Daily News, which got an up-close look at the unit.


The green-card gumshoes use old-fashioned sleuthing to ferret out marriages of convenience from cases of true love.

Spouses are interviewed separately — under oath — and the simplest questions can be sticky.

Some of Felska’s favorites:

– What restaurant do you and your husband usually order take out from, ma’am? Where do you keep the menus?
– How did you celebrate New Year’s Eve last year, sir?
– How much is your rent? Who writes the check?
– What’s the closest subway stop to your marital residence?

If the answers match, they’ll likely be approved. If they don’t, they get a chance to explain why together in a rebuttal.


“If he said the walls are white and she said the walls are green, you say, ‘Can you explain why that discrepancy exists?’” said officer Kristian Parker. If one is colorblind, they’ll need to prove it.

Some issues are easily resolved.

“We bring them together … and say, ‘Your wife told me that last New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2011, right before midnight you were at home watching the Times Square celebration,’” Felska said.

“‘However, sir, you told me that you were at a party, with your friends from college.’

“And then the wife is like, ‘Honey, you’re talking about two years ago!’”

New York couples end up in Stokes for a range of reasons.

Maybe they failed an initial interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or there was a tip from a neighbor.

Perhaps their file is missing too many documents, or their provisional green card is up for review.

Requests for marriage-based green cards have skyrocketed. Stokes was set up in the ’70s after a judge ordered the feds to be more fair in deciding those cases.

Officials say the unit is designed to give couples the benefit of the doubt — if their first interview goes poorly, they get a second chance at Stokes.

Sometimes the most suspicious couples turn out to be real, Parker said.

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