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In mathematics and programming, there exist "order of operations" standards for interpreting expressions. Does something similar exist in US government documents? In particular, I am wondering about seemingly ambiguous instructions in Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) from US Citizenship and Immigration Services. It states:

You have to prove that there is a family relationship between you and the beneficiary. If you are filing for a relative listed below, submit the following documentation to prove the family relationship.

A. A spouse

(1) A copy of your marriage certificate;

(2) If either you were or your spouse was previously married, submit copies of documents showing that each of the prior marriages was legally terminated; and

(3) You must submit two identical color passport-style photographs of yourself and your spouse (if he or she is in the United States) taken within 30 days of filing this petition. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched. The two identical color passport-style photos must be 2 by 2 inches. The photos must be in color with full face, frontal view on a white to off-white background. Head height should measure 1 to 1 3/8 inches from top of hair to bottom of chin, and eye height is between 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches from bottom of photo. Your head must be bare unless you are wearing headwear as required by a religious denomination of which you are a member. Using a pencil or felt pen, lightly print your name and A-Number (if any) on the back of the photo.

[It goes on to list other documentation that should be provided, if available, to help "prove you have a bona fide marriage."]

Does this mean "(two identical color passport-style photographs) of yourself and your spouse" or "two identical color passport-style photographs of (yourself and your spouse)"? In other words, does this describe two identical photos of each person, for a total of 4 photos? Or is this two identical photos, in which both people appear together, for a total of 2 photos?

And, more generally, are such seeming ambiguities common in official documents?

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Law is not science or math or solid logic. However - “The two identical color passport-style photos” makes it clear that for each person in question there are two identical photo documents.

External to this passage is the background knowledge of what passport and other identification photos are like. They show an individual. And, the photos are not to prove your relationship, but are a way to connect the people on the documents with the faces of the people in question.

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  • There could be two identical photos, each containing both.
    – Someone
    Nov 13 at 4:51
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    Yes, but external to this passage is the background knowledge of what passport and other identification photos are like. They show an individual. Nov 13 at 6:15
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    But how do separate photos of individuals "prove that there is a family relationship between you and the beneficiary"? Nov 13 at 13:15
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    The photos are not to prove your relationship, but are a way to connect the people on the documents with the faces of the people in question. Two people in one picture doesn't establish a relationship other than they were once both in the same place at the same time. Nov 13 at 19:12
  • @GeorgeWhite -- Thanks for the explanation; this makes perfect sense. If you can add this explanation to your answer, I'll accept it! Nov 13 at 23:00

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