Frequently Asked Questions About Marriage Fraud and U.S. Immigration

U.S. immigration law takes a stern view of applicants who have lied about their intentions in marrying so as to get a U.S. green card.

By , J.D.

Entering into a marriage for the main purpose of getting a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) is considered marriage fraud in the eyes of U.S. immigration authorities. And the effects can be far-reaching, as shown in these Q&As.

Question: After committing marriage fraud, can I get a U.S. green card some other way?

I live in the U.S. without immigration papers, after a visa overstay. I married a U.S. citizen. She filed the immigration paperwork for me, but I hadn't told her I was already married. So we got in trouble for marriage fraud. I think I was supposed to go to court, but I moved to another state. Now someone would like to offer me a job and sponsor me for immigration. How big a problem will my past marriage fraud be?

Answer: Past marriage fraud makes one inadmissible, among other problems

Actually, you've got several problems, as follows:

Marriage fraud. U.S. law bar someone from getting a new visa petition approved after having entered into a past fraudulent marriage. (See § 204(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).) It doesn't matter what type of visa petition is now filed for you, whether employment-based, marriage-based, or something else.

Fraud and inadmissibility. A separate section of the immigration laws makes someone who has committed any sort of fraud to get a U.S. visa or green card "inadmissible," that is, ineligible for a visa or green card or other U.S. entry or admission. (See I.N.A. § 212(a)(6)(C)(i).) A waiver is available if you can show extreme hardship to your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent.

Past deportation proceedings. If you were supposed to attend a hearing in immigration court, and failed to show, the judge should have entered an in absentia order of removal in your file. In other words, you are expected to have left the U.S. long ago. With an outstanding order of removal, you can be picked up and deported at any time—including if you submit an immigration application. (See Ordered Removed in Absentia: What Can I Do?)

Definitely set up a consultation with a U.S. immigration attorney to get a full analysis of your situation and see what avenues might be open to you.

Question: Can a conditional resident be deported for marriage fraud before two years are up?

My marriage has fallen apart, only six months into my conditional residence period. I'm not sure whether the Immigration people will call it a real marriage if they look closely. We were dating before we married, but not exclusively. Only when my visa ran out and it looked like I'd have to leave the U.S. did my soon-to-be-ex wife agree to marry me, so as to keep me here. (Obviously, we didn't tell that to the officer who interviewed us.)

Am I at least safe from deportation until the two-year date when I'm supposed to file the I-751 to go from conditional to permanent resident rolls around?

Answer: U.S. immigration authorities can remove conditional residents

Technically speaking, U.S. immigration authorities can terminate someone's conditional residence status and take steps to deport (remove) the person at any time, if it finds that the qualifying marriage "was entered into for the purpose of procuring an alien's admission as an immigrant" or "has been judicially annulled and terminated, other than through the death of a spouse." (See the Immigration and Nationality Act, at I.N.A. § 216(b).)

Either of these sounds like it might apply to your situation. However, whether U.S. immigration authorities are likely to catch up with you is another matter. They are notoriously under-resourced, and probably know they'll have another chance to catch up with you if you fail to file an I-751 or file one that can't be approved.

If you do receive notification that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks to deport you, ask for a hearing in immigration court. And get in touch with an experienced immigration attorney right away.

Question: Will past marriage fraud hurt my chances of getting asylum?

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. Now I have been sent to immigration court. I want to apply for asylum, because there's a civil war in my country and I am afraid to go back. Will the judge deny my asylum after learning about my marriage fraud?

Answer: Past marriage fraud isn't a bar to asylum, but damages one's credibility and worthiness of the judge's discretion

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 and fears are true. The judge might conclude from your marriage fraud that you have a propensity for lying.

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). Immigration judges have a lot of freedom ("discretion") to deny asylum applications based on negative factors (such as marriage fraud).

Unless you can disprove the finding that you committed marriage fraud, try to submit at least some evidence of factors that put you in a good light (your positive community involvement and so on). If possible, also try to prove to the judge that the persecution you would suffer if you returned to your home country would be severe enough to justify disregarding all negative factors in your case.

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 granted asylum, you should be prepared to address this issue again later, if and when you apply for a green card. Get an attorney's help with this complex process.

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