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Guarding Against Accusations of Marriage Fraud in Immigration Cases

U.S. immigration law allows foreign national spouses of American citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) to enter the country and apply for LPR status. However, the law assumes that these marriages are legitimate. U.S. citizenship is a highly valued commodity and people all over the world are clamoring for legal status within the U.S. So, it’s not surprising that some go to extreme lengths, even entering into sham marriages, to get around U.S. immigration law. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified several common types of marriage fraud:

  • A U.S. citizen marries a foreign national for pay or as a favor
  • “Mail-order” marriage where either the U.S. citizen or alien knows it is a fraud
  • Visa lottery fraudulent marriage
  • A foreign national defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes the marriage is legitimate

The penalties for marriage fraud are severe, and DHS is vigilant, so anyone contemplating marriage with a foreign national needs to know the law and the steps to take to avoid suspicion.

Severe penalties for marriage fraud in the U.S.

Immigration law pertaining to marriage fraud is clear. The U.S. citizen and spouse could face criminal prosecution, leading to stiff fines and imprisonment:

“Any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both (I.N.A. § 275(c); 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c)).”

Foreign national spouses are rarely prosecuted criminally, but face deportation and afterwards are permanently barred from re-entering the United States. However, there have been a few recent marriage fraud cases that were widely publicized, including one in which the person had already naturalized.

Moreover, a non-citizen found to have engaged in marriage fraud is permanently barred from receiving the benefit of any immigrant visas including new marriage cases, petitions from other family members such as parents, siblings and children, as well as those based upon employment.

Parties who have a role in arranging the marriage can be prosecuted for criminal conspiracy, especially if money has been exchanged. USCIS is constantly on the lookout for parties operating a “commercial enterprise” designed to procure green cards for foreign nationals.

Why it is important for U.S. citizens to recognize marriage fraud

The threat of marriage fraud is not simply that some foreign nationals will “jump the queue” and get ahead of hopeful immigrants who are playing by the rules. Marriage fraud actually poses personal and national security risks. DHS has launched a marriage fraud initiative to educate American citizens about the risks to themselves and the nation of rampant marriage fraud.

  • Personal liability — The foreign spouse may gain access to sensitive, personal information such as bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, retirement and investment accounts, personal identity information, and family heirlooms.
  • Aiding the enemy — Foreign terrorists, spies and criminals can use marriage fraud to enter the U.S. The marriage gives them a legitimate cover so they can hide their true identity, access government facilities, and open bank accounts and businesses to conduct activity that threatens the security of the country.

It’s important to understand that the government has legitimate reasons for scrutinizing marriages between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. At Bretz & Coven, LLP, our knowledgeable attorneys provide the crucial legal advice you need to help your bona-fide marriage stand up to that scrutiny. Call today at 212-267-2555 or contact us online to schedule a confidential appointment. 

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Immigration Consequences of Criminal and Fraudulent Conduct
The immigration consequences of criminal or fraudulent conduct can be harsh and often illogical. Even a very minor offense could have a dramatic immigration consequence, including deportation, detention without bond, being denied naturalization, a visa or re-entry into the United States. Likewise, the use of fake or fraudulent documents, aliases, and other misrepresentations can have similar immigration consequences. Kerry Bretz and Bretz & Coven have been counseling non-citizen criminal defendants, as well as their lawyers, for over 20 years. We have a long history of strategizing deportation and removal defenses, as well as applications for waivers, in very complicated cases.

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