Will past marriage fraud hurt my chances of getting asylum?

With marriage fraud on your immigration record, restoring your credibility for asylum purposes will be difficult.

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Question

I am from the Central African Republic. I applied for a green card based on my marriage to a U.S. citizen. But my application was denied because my husband told an immigration officer that he married me only because I paid him to help me get the green card. Now I have been sent to immigration court. But I think I can apply for asylum because there is a civil war in my country and I am afraid to go back. Is the judge going to deny my asylum when he learns about my marriage fraud?

Answer

Possibly, but not necessarily. If you are denied asylum because you committed marriage fraud, this would be for at least one of the following two reasons.

The first reason is that marriage fraud reflects poorly on your credibility. Credibility is one of the most important elements of asylum cases because it helps determine whether the story that asylum applicants tell about their persecution is true, and whether their fear of future persecution is sincere.

Your immigration judge will first assess your credibility based on whether the story you tell him makes sense (in terms of its internal plausibility and consistency). After that, he will probably judge your credibility based on any other evidence that suggests you are likely to tell the truth. At that point, he might conclude from your marriage fraud that you have a propensity for lying. In addition, he could conclude from the fact that you tried to obtain immigration benefits first through marriage fraud and only second through asylum that your fear of persecution serves only as a pretext — not as a central reason for your asylum application.

The second reason why the judge might deny your asylum application is that marriage fraud reflects poorly on whether you deserve the U.S. government’s help in the first place (even assuming that you have a well-founded fear of persecution).

It is true that applicants are not normally expected to prove their “good moral character” in order to obtain asylum. However, immigration judges have a lot of freedom (or “discretion”) to deny asylum applications based on negative factors (such as marriage fraud) in applicants’ background.

Therefore, unless you can disprove the finding that you committed marriage fraud, you should probably try to submit at least some evidence of factors that put you in a good light (which might include evidence of good moral character, positive community involvement, and so on). If possible, you should also try to prove to the judge that the persecution you would suffer if you returned to the Central African Republic would be so severe that he should disregard all negative factors in your case. Just make sure that you can document your claim.

Note also that, since you are seeking asylum (as opposed to refugee status from outside the U.S.), your marriage fraud will not be considered a ground of inadmissibility in any other way, which means that you will not be required to make a formal request for forgiveness (by applying for a waiver). However, if you are granted asylum, you should be prepared to address this issue again later on, if and when you decide to apply for a green card. Get an attorney's help with this complex process.

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