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Though most marriages between an immigrant and a United States citizen are entered into for legitimate reasons, there are "sham" marriages entered into solely to allow the immigrant to obtain his or her green card.
This constitutes an abuse of the U.S. immigration system. Congress passed extensive legislation intended to combat this type of abuse, including civil and criminal penalties for couples found guilty of immigration marriage fraud.
Please note that both parties in a fraudulent marriage are vulnerable to charges, not just the immigrant.
What Constitutes Immigration Marriage Fraud?
Two United States citizens may get married for any reason they choose. The same cannot be said when one half of the couple is an immigrant without a green card or permanent resident status. When an immigrant marries a U.S. citizen, the couple must intend to build a life together in the same way most married couples do.
Marriage for any other reason is considered a sham marriage and vulnerable to accusations of fraud.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal entity tasked with determining whether a marriage is fraudulent. To accomplish this, couples undergo detailed personal interviews and a two-year "testing" period. During this time, USCIS representatives have the authority to follow the couple to determine the validity of the relationship (though they typically only do this if they suspect fraud). In addition, government representatives may visit your home and/or interview family, friends, and work colleagues.
What are the Types of Immigration Marriage Fraud?
The government has identified some of the more common sham marriage schemes as indicative of fraud. These include:
- Claiming it is an arranged marriage, if the immigrant is from a country or culture that practices arranged marriages
- Financial arrangements in which the U.S. citizen receives some form of compensation for marrying an immigrant
- Foreign nationals divorcing a spouse in their country of origin, marrying a U.S. citizen, and then divorcing the citizen to petition for the former spouse
- Mail order brides and similar services
- The non-citizen behaving as though the relationship is "real" solely to obtain a green card
The USCIS looks closely at marriages when a green card is applied for – and approved – before the couple reaches their second wedding anniversary. The same is true when the immigrant enters with a visa and applies for a green card before the two-year mark. These individuals receive a conditional green card, one valid for two years.
Divorce alone does not indicate fraud. However, remaining married but not living together does. In either case, the USCIS may request proof that the marriage was real.
What are the Penalties for Immigration Marriage Fraud?
If convicted of marriage fraud, there are consequences for both the immigrant and the U.S. citizen (assuming the citizen was a knowing participant in the fraud). The immigrant may face both civil and criminal penalties, with the U.S. citizen facing criminal penalties. There may also be civil penalties for a spouse with permanent resident status.
Conviction of marriage fraud may lead to deportation. For immigrants granted a nonimmigrant visa, that visa may be revoked. In addition, the fraud conviction enters the immigrant's record, meaning that obtaining a green card or U.S. visa in the future is extremely unlikely.
If the immigrant's spouse is not a citizen but instead has permanent resident status, he or she may also be deported.
There are two separate federal statutes that allow for criminal penalties for any party convicted of marriage fraud.
INA Act 275 guides both alien entry and misrepresentation. It states that anyone who knowingly enters into a fraudulent marriage (one intended to evade immigration laws) is subject to a maximum prison sentence of five years and/or fines up to $250,000.
Title 18 of the U.S. Code prohibits perjury or making false statements under oath. A conviction of marriage fraud may result in punishment under Section 1546, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years for first and second offenses.
Punishments depend on aggravating and mitigating factors. Someone systematically arranging fraudulent marriages (such as the mail order bride schemes) is more likely to receive harsher penalties.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you face charges of immigration marriage fraud, you need a criminal defense attorney, preferably one experienced in immigration law. Schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss the details of your case. Your attorney will work with you to determine next steps and fight for your rights.