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How NOT to get a green card!

June 2010
How NOT to get a green card!

Marriage fraud has been a problem for decades, and USCIS has honed its detection skills to ensure that only bona fide marriages can lead to successful petitions.  

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: a potential client walks into the office with a friend willing to “help him out” by marrying him so he can get a green card. It’s done all the time, they assure us, and they’re covering all their bets by hiring an immigration lawyer to oversee their fake marriage and subsequent United States Citizenship and Immigration Services filing. That potential client will not be becoming an actual client.

This is the only certainty of what happens all the time: USCIS catches marriage fraud all the time; would-be immigrants get deported and barred for life from the country all the time; U.S. citizens get prosecuted for lying to federal officials all the time. Penalties for both would-be immigrants and U.S. citizens can amount to up to five years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Marriage to a citizen remains the most common path to U.S. residency and/or citizenship for foreign nationals, with more than 2.3 million foreign nationals gaining permanent resident status in this manner between 1998 and 2007. And marriage to an American is the clearest pathway to citizenship for an illegal alien. A substantial number of illegal aliens who are ordered to be removed resurface as marriage-based green card applicants. Waivers granted to those marrying U.S. citizens can eliminate ineligibilities for green cards, including the three/ten-year bar on entry for those with long periods of illegal presence.

So while there’s no question that marriage to a citizen is an extremely desirable option for those wishing to immigrate here, one should think twice before going so far as to marry someone solely for this purpose. Officers closely scrutinize all public records, scour the applicants’ personal documents, and thoroughly interview the couple. Sometimes, even couples in a bona fide marriage will be scrutinized more carefully because of their personal characteristics or lifestyle—for instance, if one spouse travels alone frequently. People who do not seem to share a common language, have marked differences in age, class, culture, or religion, or who don’t live at the same address may be investigated more carefully as well. In some cases the couple undergoes an interview in which they are separated and questioned separately with detailed, personal questions to see if their answers match up. One husband and wife exposed during an interview couldn't agree on the color of their bedroom walls or carpets.

In many situations, additional complications arise when blackmail enters the picture. Many fraudulent marriages are arranged based on a payment to the U.S. citizen, while others do not start out this way, but then end in extortion. Occasionally the scheme is a large-scale operation: in May 2008, twelve people were arrested after USCIS officers and special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement uncovered a marriage fraud ring that had been arranging fraudulent marriages since the early 1970s. The twelve arrested represented three generations of an extended family. Maria Refugia Camarillo, a U.S. citizen, was the alleged ringleader of the organization, which charged foreign nationals as much as $12,000 to arrange marriages with citizens. In either large-scale operations or individual arrangements, the foreign spouse is then open to being threatened and extorted for ongoing payments, and in some cases even sued for alimony once the marriage ends. Because they do not dare reveal the marriage as fraudulent for fear of deportation, most agree to whatever demands are made. In the end, it is by far the best path to citizenship to find an alternative means of green card sponsorship, rather than face potential imprisonment, blackmail, or deportation.

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