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The preferred means of gaining permanent legal resident status for immigrants is as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. These immigrants are considered “immediate relatives” and, as such, are not subject to the numerical limits placed on all other categories of immigrants.
The Immigration Marriage Fraud laws of 1986 gave immigration officials the power to decide which marriages are fraudulent marriages. A marriage can be determined to be a fraudulent marriage even if it is a valid marriage under the laws of the state where it was entered into. If a marriage is determined to be fraudulent, the immigration petition is denied and a deportation hearing is set for the immigrant spouse.
Immigration marriage fraud is also a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 dollar fine. Both spouses can also be charged with making a false statement to federal officials regarding the purpose of the marriage and even false denials of fraudulent intent can generate a criminal charge.
Immigrants that are allowed to enter this country based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen are granted a two years conditional status. A petition must be filed, and a marriage interview conducted during the final 90 days of the two-year conditional period. If the petition seems legitimate, immigration officials can decide that a marriage interview in not necessary and grant permanent residency.
During the marriage interview, immigration officials separate the spouses and ask them very detailed questions regarding even very intimate aspects of their marital relationship. These questions are designed to expose spouses that do not actually live together or know information that parties to a “good faith marriage” should know. Also, marriages that have not been consummated are presumed to be fraudulent.
A divorce, in and of itself, will not cause the cancellation of permanent resident status if the marriage lasted at least two years. If the marriage is terminated before the second anniversary, the immigrant spouse could face deportation unless she can prove that she was the victim of abuse, including domestic violence, kidnapping, sexual assault, false imprisonment or other listed offenses. If an immigrant spouse can prove abuse, she may qualify for a “U” visa.
The criminal laws and immigration laws that prohibit fraudulent marriages carry extremely harsh penalties. Spouses with rare or unusual marital circumstances should consult with an experienced immigration attorney prior to filing their immigration petition and certainly before going to their marriage interview. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.