Love knows no bounds. When someone falls in love and wants to marry, they aren’t necessarily concerned about their future spouse’s background or identity. They are only thinking about how that person will make them happy and be a good partner for many years to come.
However, if you learn that your potential partner is an illegal immigrant, it may be cause for concern. You need to learn the process for marrying an illegal immigrant and if you could get into trouble for doing so. You want to spend the rest of your life with your partner, but you don’t want to go to jail, receive a fine or get separated from your partner just for getting hitched.
Marrying an Illegal Immigrant
However, nothing will happen to someone who marries an illegal immigrant, or an undocumented immigrant, as they are also called. United States citizens marry undocumented immigrants all the time. It’s just a matter of the court determining the reasons behind the marriage. There are times when marriages can be deemed illegal, as in the case with marriage fraud.
Read More: How to Report an Illegal Immigrant
Marriage Fraud Laws
It is illegal for an undocumented immigrant to marry a U.S. citizen simply to gain citizenship. This is called marriage fraud, and it could result in steep fines and/or jail time. If both parties go into a fraudulent marriage, then they are both at fault. However, if only the illegal immigrant does it, then he or she runs the risk of serving time and/or getting fined. Marriage fraud is a felony offense, and you could be sentenced up to five years in prison or made to pay fines of up to $250,000.
Since as many as 30 percent of the marriages between undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens are suspect, couples are required to do a personal interview with U.S. immigration authorities. This is a normal part of the process of marrying an illegal immigrant and seeking citizenship for the undocumented spouse. The spouses may be questioned separately about each other. If either one gets a number of the answers wrong, it won’t look good to the immigration authorities.
A two-year waiting period is imposed on partners who have been married less than two years at the time they entered the U.S. on a visa or from when they received their green card.
Along with a marriage ceremony and a marriage certificate, to prove that their marriage is valid, a couple has to establish a life together, which means they live together, get to know each other’s families, have common interests and have joint bank accounts. U.S. immigration authorities may request copies of a mortgage, children’s birth certificates and bank account statements.
A Visa Overstay Marriage
When someone enters the United States on a visa, the visa has an expiration date. However, the visa doesn’t contain the date that the person needs to leave the country. That’s actually found on a form called I-94. If someone has stayed in the country past the date on the I-94, then they are in violation of immigrant laws, so they may enter into a visa overstay marriage.
In a visa overstay marriage, the U.S. citizen is marrying an illegal immigrant who entered with a visa and then didn’t leave on time. The immigrant would be in violation of the law if they entered the country on the visa simply to find a U.S. citizen to marry and to eventually get a green card.
The type of visa the person was granted makes a difference in the eyes of the law. The immigration authorities will be suspicious if someone enters the U.S. on a tourist visa, and then begins to plan and shop for a wedding. However, if they came to the U.S. on a student visa and were studying in school for four years before they met someone and decided to get married, it seems a lot more plausible.
Adjustment of Status
If the person didn’t get caught by the authorities between the time their form I-94 expires and when they get married, then they can go through the green card process and ask for what’s called an adjustment of status. This will shield them from the law and ensure that they are now legally in the U.S.
Marrying an Illegal Immigrant With a Felony
If a person falls in love with an undocumented immigrant who commits a felony, it’s not a good situation. Not only has one spouse broken the law, but they may be at risk of being deported and barred from ever entering the country again.
Marrying an illegal immigrant with a felony is a risky business, because they can be deported if they commit simple battery, theft, fail to appear in court, or file a fraudulent tax return. These kinds of crimes are termed “aggravated felonies.”
Marrying an illegal immigrant with a felony is not the only thing to worry about. If an illegal immigrant commits a crime of moral turpitude, in which they defy the standards of morality in a community, they could also be deported. These crimes include child abuse, wire fraud, carrying a concealed weapon, participating in tax evasion and committing perjury.
Obtaining a Green Card
If an illegal immigrant marries a U.S. citizen, they may be able to get a green card, if they can prove that they are not committing marriage fraud. The green card, which they can apply for through Form I-485 or Form DS-260, will allow them to live anywhere they want in the U.S. as well as work wherever they want. They will be given permanent resident status, and then, after three years, they can become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Along with Form I-485 and Form DS-260, the married couple needs to file Form I-130, which is called Petition for Alien Relative, to establish their relationship with the U.S. immigration authorities. Form I-130 needs to be submitted with the U.S. citizen’s passport photo page, birth certificate or copy of their green card, marriage certificate, bank statements and other supporting documents to prove the marriage is not fraudulent and proof that any former marriages have come to an end, such as a final decree of divorce document.
An interview will also be required before the illegal immigrant is given a green card. The green card is valid for 10 years, and it’s easy to renew.
Legal Advice is Recommended
Talk to an immigration attorney before going through the process of marrying an illegal immigrant and attempting to get a green card or U.S. citizenship. Both spouses need to prepare not only for the forms required but also for their respective interviews with authorities. They’ll have a better chance of obtaining the best possible outcome.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a legal writer for LegalZoom, Legal Management Magazine and many law firms throughout the United States.