Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is highly suspicious of people who try to obtain permanent residence (green card) through marriage. In fact, USCIS has previously stated that in its opinion, over one-third of the marriage-based permanent resident petitions it receives are based on marriage fraud. As a result, the government will scrutinize the application and interview the couple with an eye towards rooting out fraudulent marriages, also known as sham marriages.
What is a “Bona Fide” Marriage for Immigration Purposes?
A bona fide marriage, according to the government, is one that was not entered into for the sole purpose of acquiring an immigration benefit. What’s the legal test the government uses to determine if a marriage is “bona fide”? Answer: the couple must show that at the time they got married, their goal was to create a real marital relationship and not to commit immigration fraud.
What happens if USCIS determines the couple committed marriage fraud? The couple risks severe penalties – including, for the foreign national spouse, a lifetime bar on immigrating the U.S. through any kind of visa petition in the future; potential imprisonment (jail) for up to 5 years; and a possible fine of up to $250,000. The jail time and fine can apply to the U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse as well as the foreign national spouse.
Real Life Examples of Marriage Fraud Cases
Mexican actress Fernando Romero and her American husband were arrested in April 2010 and charged with marriage fraud for allegedly trying to gain legal residency and a work permit for her by marrying each other. Federal authorities claim the couple never lived together and one month after the 2005 marriage the actress allegedly began dating, and eventually moved in with, a fashion photographer.
A federal grand jury in Norfolk indicted 17 individuals on charges connected with, what officials say, was a broad conspiracy scheme to recruit U.S. Navy sailors l to engage in fraudulent marriages to Russian women.
In 2008, Operation “Knot So Fast” resulted in the government’s arrest of more than 80 people alleged to be involved in various marriage fraud conspiracies throughout Florida. Some of the sham marriages were arranged by individuals who would “coach” those committing the fraud on how to make their marriage appear legitimate. They even had wedding dresses on hand, fake cakes, and preset staging for pictures.
One of the largest marriage-scam busts occurred one year after 9/11. As a result of “Operation Broken Vows,” in October 2002 107 American women in the Carolinas and an equal number of Middle Eastern men living illegally in the U.S. from Boston to North Carolina were charged with marriage fraud. Six organizers were also arrested, charged with facilitating the payment of $1,000 to $6,000 to the women for their cooperation. The couples often met just before walking into probate court to get married, and went their separate ways as soon as they walked out.
The government’s commitment to rooting out marriage fraud is grounded in security concerns. “Marriage fraud will not be tolerated. It is a direct attack to the national security of the United Sates,” said Kathy Redman, District Director of U.S. CIS in Tampa during Operation Knot so Fast. “The process of detection of marriage fraud begins the moment an application is submitted to our agency and later when a couple comes to our offices for a marriage interview. So beware. The job of our adjudicators is not just to grant or not an immigration benefit. It is also, and most definitely, keeping our country secure.”
In sum, besides being illegal, engaging in immigration marriage fraud is just simply a bad idea. It is difficult to be in a sham marriage and escape discovery from the government during the petition and interview process. The punishment includes jail time and hefty fines which usually far exceed any payment that may have been received for the transaction. A later determination of permanent residence acquired through a prior fraudulent marriage will likely result in the government taking away the foreign national’s green card and/or denying a naturalization petition, which could land the foreign national in deportation proceedings if not jail. So just don’t do it. In upcoming posts, we will discuss what the government looks for as evidence of marriage fraud and what a couple can do to prove that the marriage is bona fide.
SCHEDULE A LEGAL STRATEGY SESSION FOR ADVICE
The Law Office of Tanya M. Lee, PLLC is happy to offer advice on or assistance on the evidence you can submit to prove a “bona fide marriage” or “bona fide relationship” in connection with your fiance visa or spouse green card petition. To arrange a legal strategy session via telephone or Skype, or to request a review of your evidence, firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.480.559.9529.