Why Inattentional Blindness May Kill Your Immigration Dreams

In yesterday’s blog post, we looked at the story behind a December 20, 2018 Board of Immigration Appeals decision. The decision involved a Venezuelan couple who, according to an immigration judge, committed a willful misrepresentation of a material fact. Due to the misrepresentation, the couple was due to be deported.
The couple appealed the immigration judge’s deportation order. But the board that hears appeals upheld it.
Here is a quick review of the facts. The husband’s permanent residence application stated that he had worked as a pastor at the church, when he had never done so. The husband said in immigration court he had not been aware the permanent residence application stated he was a pastor. The husband stated that he just signed the immigration application that a man he thought to be both a pastor and a lawyer filled out for him.
One member of the appellate board wrote that, at the very least, the Venezuelan husband and wife were willfully blind to the falsities in the permanent resident applications that they submitted.
We do not know whether the board member was correct.
But, we do know that applicants and petitioners routinely—especially when handling a case on their own or with an inattentive, uninspired attorney—fall victim to inattentional blindness.
How could they miss the gorilla!
Now, if you are not sure “inattentional” is even a word, count yourself among the many. But “inattenitional” is a word, and inattentional blindness is common human frailty. Inattentional blindness is common and insidious. It’s so insidious that we rarely recognize it afflicting us.
The concept of inattentional blindness can be summed up: we don’t expect to see what we are not looking for.
The classic experiment related to inattentional blindess involves a short video of two teams playing basketball. One team wears white and the other wears black. You receive the task of counting how many times the team wearing white passed the basketball between themselves. Now, halfway through the short video, someone wearing a gorilla suit walks on the court, beats his chest, and then departs.
At the end of the video, a researcher asks you how many passes there were. The normal range of answers is between 14 and 17. Then, the researcher asks whether you saw anything unusual.
About 60% of people fail to name the gorilla! When the researcher points out the gorilla and replays the tape, people accuse the researcher of switching the video. They’re quite sure the gorilla was not in the original video.
This study shows that people get too caught up in the detail of trying to count the passes. Something similar happens in immigration applications and petitions. Individuals and families make obvious mistakes. Even an attorney who is not engaged, who lacks care for his clients, or who is not buttressed by a strong set of SOP’s (standard operating procedures) will make obvious mistakes.
Is it plausible that the Venezuelan couple fell victim to inattentional blindess? It is. And is it surprising that the Board member would think there is no way the blindness was not intentional? No, it is not surprising. As humans, it is rare for us to recognize that we would fall victim to inattentional blindness. It’s probably not much of a stretch to say that nearly every person—i.e., nearly 100% of people—think that they would be part of the 40% of test respondents who noticed the gorilla. That’s overconfidence for you.
Now, is there a useful immigration takeaway from all this? There sure is.
The takeaway is this: if you need to file an important immigration application or petition, think twice before doing it in-house. Instead, rely on a trustworthy lawyer with systems and processes to ensure that your application or petition does not suffer from inattentional blindness or a swarm of other psychological shortcomings.