By Janet Howard
Are you talking about a fake (“sham”) marriage as a way of getting a Green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence)? Please be aware that your fraudulent marriage plan is illegal. Marriage fraud is a crime, regardless of the circumstances under which you sought to “help” an unlawful immigrant circumvent legal immigration channels or if you took part in a sham marriage for money. Many immigrants enter into sham marriages, aware that doing so is illegal. In these cases, the undocumented immigrant may get “help” from a U.S. citizen friend or even pay money to a U.S. citizen for the marriage. However, many immigrants, unfortunately, enter into sham marriages without being cognizant of the potential consequences.
How is Marriage Fraud defined in U.S. Immigration Law?
A sham marriage is entered into to get around (“evade”) U.S. immigration laws. For a marriage to be valid under the law, it is not sufficient that the couple had an actual marriage ceremony and a marriage certificate. They must plan to live in a real marital relationship to establish a life together, following the marriage ceremony—and prove their intention through their actions. If the couple doesn’t plan to create a life together, their marriage is a sham.
Another way an immigration application based on marriage can be found fraudulent is if it isn’t legally valid. For example, if one party is already married to another person and could never get a legal divorce. Even if you sincerely love your new spouse, this current marriage is invalid. Applying for a Green Card based on an invalid marriage is very much considered fraudulent.
What the U.S. Government Expects a Real Marriage to Look Like
The U.S. government is a “love” government. Most adjustment of status cases happens through marriage. So, what constitutes a typical, “real” marriage” to the U.S. government?
The “standard” married couple has quite a bit in common. They share a language, culture, and even religion. They live together and do things together, such as take vacations, attend events and family functions, celebrate important events and milestones, birthdays, and holidays, join clubs or gyms, and have sex and, for the most part, children.
Typical couples also combine financial and other aspects of their lives after marriage. They show their trust in one another by sharing bank and credit card accounts and property ownership, such as cars and houses. They celebrate each other’s birthdays and meet families.
And of course, they may even have arguments and marital problems, but, if possible, they will visit a therapist or faith-based leader to help work these out. So, what are the consequences of marriage fraud?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Investigation
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have an essential job. Immigrants that have been married for less than two years to a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident must prove that their marriage is genuine and valid and apply to remove the conditions of their residence. But if they cannot prove that their marriage is valid or fail to file on time, and if there is any suspicion in the minds of USCIS employees that marriage fraud has taken place, USCIS can refer the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE will decide whether to pursue a criminal investigation.
If ICE decides to take things further, they will investigate whether marriage fraud has indeed occurred. If fraudulent proceedings are found, ICE will pursue criminal prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office.
What Happens when ICE Does Not Conduct a Criminal Investigation?
Suppose for whatever reason, ICE chooses not to pursue a criminal investigation against a suspected marriage fraud case. In that case, the case will then be returned to USCIS, which will pursue its administrative investigation against the suspects. This does not mean that the suspects have been exonerated.
Following the conclusion of the investigation, if there is strong evidence to suggest that marriage fraud has taken place, the immigration benefits that have been sought will be denied. USCIS will start removal proceedings (deportation) against the applicant.
Further Penalties for Marriage Fraud
In addition to a criminal investigation and deportation, those involved in marriage fraud and later convicted for the crime may face a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Illegal immigrants who have been deported and faced further penalties will find applying for future immigration benefits challenging.
The consequences of marriage fraud are not worth the stain on your reputation or criminal record. Marriage should be the lifelong union of a couple devoted and committed to one another, not a shifty, fraudulent union of those simply trying to bypass the legal requirements. Before you decide to participate in marriage fraud, consider the consequences of your actions and reconsider.
The Stokes Interview and Legal Help
Immigrants are desperate, and desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. However, the first critical advice regarding marriage fraud is: Do not ever even consider entering a sham marriage to obtain immigration benefits. Remember, in addition to being blatantly against the law, the potential ramifications for sham marriages, as discussed above, are severe.
Suppose there are any suspicions during the first interview with the consular officer or USCIS officer, and it doesn’t go well. In that case, they may hold a second one, called a Stokes interview, also known as the marriage fraud interview. The would-be immigrant and spouse are separated and asked the same questions, after which their answers are compared. For example, the husband says they always spend his birthday in Florida, but the wife says they always go to the Poconos, there is a problem. The Stokes interview is a second chance for the couple to convince the USCIS officer of the validity of their marriage. That is, it is bona fide.
People who enter sham marriages often trip themselves up just trying to get through the standard process, believing that a fake marriage would be simpler to get away with than it really is.
Even immigrants who entered marriage legitimately to establish a life together with their spouses should consult with an experienced immigration attorney while removing conditions on permanent residence. Any mistake in the application process, failure to present sufficient evidence that the marriage was bona fide, or a poor interview may lead to USCIS finding that a legitimate marriage was fraudulent. Immigration law is complex, and the best decision you can make is to consult and retain the services of an immigration lawyer, preferably a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). One such attorney is Brian Figeroux, of the Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates, with over two decades of practicing immigration law. Ask the Lawyer. Schedule an appointment at www.askthelawyer.us or call 855-768-8845. The lawyer you hire does make a difference.