When fingerprints are obstacle to marriage

When fingerprints are obstacle to marriage

Disabled man’s lack of clear prints pose a hurdle to immigration

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Gabe Chesman is trying not to allow his fingers, deformed from a freak illness years ago that left him paralyzed, from literally coming between him and his fiancee, Meriah Main. The pair has plans to marry in May 2017 — if he can immigrate to Vancouver, Canada, where she is from, without traditional fingerprints. 

Chesman first appeared in these pages in 2007, after suffering a rare spinal stroke, fighting for his life at Kessler Institute in West Orange instead of enjoying his senior year of college at Drexel University. He won the battle, and eventually transitioned to live with his mother in Springfield. Over the years, he adjusted to his new reality, as area synagogues and churches made donations to help him manage the heavy financial burden of his condition.

By summer 2015, he had a new lease on life, living on the West Coast with his then-girlfriend, Main.

A significant hurdle has landed in their path to happiness: fingerprints. Without them, he cannot prove he has no criminal record. But no fewer than six attempts at fingerprinting have failed. In frustration, Chesman contacted NJJN

Any application for immigration to Canada must be accompanied by a criminal record check completed by the FBI. But as Chesman wrote, “The FBI has been unable to read my prints, based on the deformities of my hands that the paralysis has left me with.” And worse, he wrote, “The FBI does not complete these checks based on any other identifying characteristics other than fingerprints — leaving me unable to have a criminal record search completed and no way to tell the Canadian government that I do not have a criminal record.” He continued, “I have submitted my prints six times, only to be told time and again that they are unable to process fingerprints of low quality — and therefore are not able to provide a letter saying that I have no record.”

For Chesman and Main, the challenge is overwhelming. “We are at our wits’ end with the process and it has caused us so much emotional pain and distress,” he wrote, wondering if NJJN could help.

NJJN reached out to immigration attorneys both in the United States and Canada. Both agreed that Chesman should be able to find a way around the issue.

Andrew L. Fair of South Orange, a Manhattan immigration attorney (and member of Congregation Beth El in South Orange) told NJJN, “The problem with fingerprints happens a lot. Some people just don’t have ridges naturally, or they are scraped or burned down because of their occupation (chefs) or accidents. The problem is now exacerbated with the advent of digital fingerprint scanning instead of ink prints. Ink printing is much better at picking up the ridges than digital printing, oddly.”

Chesman confirmed that he was using ink printing throughout the process, which began December 2015.

“The Seattle police department was able to obtain an individual print of each finger, using a special handheld fingerprinting tool — but were not able to get a flat impression of my hand, so along with those prints the Seattle police had written a note stating that it was difficult obtaining the ink prints due to my disability and I added a photo of myself where my hands were visible,” he wrote.

But in March, the FBI called the prints “not good enough.”

In April, they contacted a fingerprint technician in the town of Blaine, Wash., near the Canadian border, where they currently live. He ordered a special device to accommodate Chesman’s inability to set his hands on a desk away from his wheelchair. When it arrived, he took two more sets of prints. Submitted separately with explanations from a physician, they again received the same response from the FBI. The prints weren’t good enough to use. 

In May they drove back to Seattle, where a police department specialist with experience obtaining complicated prints tried. Although Chesman and Main thought they would succeed and resubmitted them, the FBI again rejected Chesman’s prints. 

But Joel Guberman, chair and founding partner of the Toronto immigration law firm Guberman Garson Segal, LLP, suggested in an e-mail to NJJN that Chesman may already have the documents he needs: “It has been our experience in these situations that the FBI ordinarily issues a letter/notification that the prints are of sufficiently low or poor quality as to make a background clearance unavailable. If he has such notifications, he should send them to the Canadian immigration processing post with a brief written explanation.”

On July 7, Chesman submitted his materials to the Canadian immigration offices. He is now awaiting a response.

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