One of the most direct paths to a Green Card is by marriage to an American citizen. However, Permanent Residency is by no means guaranteed, even when the marriage is legitimate. Discovering sham marriages is a top enforcement priority of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When a couple enters into a sham marriage for the purposes of committing immigration fraud, not only can the application be denied, but the U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident spouse can face up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
Even if the immigrants themselves are not prosecuted criminally, they will in all likelihood simply be deported (removed) and never allowed to return to the United States, even if they later enter into a real marriage with a U.S. citizen. In order to distinguish a legitimate marriage from a sham marriage, it is crucial to work with an attorney to ensure that DHS is able to approve your Green Card application based on the evidence supporting the marriage’s legitimacy. The following case example illustrates the importance of this matter.
An Application Rejected Three Times
About a year ago, we had a client come to the office with a complicated case after their Green Card application was rejected by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) not once, but three times. The client was a foreign national who had recently married a U.S. Citizen. The couple entered a valid marriage two years before, and lived together since then. After the wedding, the couple applied for a Green Card based on the client’s marriage to a U.S. citizen. While the case should have been easy and obvious due to the couple’s close relationship and numerous friends who could attest to the legitimacy of their marriage, the couple committed one fatal error: they did not properly prepare their application.
By the time the couple came to our office, they were on their last appeal. The couple’s problems began with the initial application for Permanent Resident status. When they submitted the application packet, they failed to include almost all the evidence necessary to properly prove a valid marriage, even a copy of their marriage certificate! Predictably, given the lack of evidence, USCIS rejected their application.
While USCIS presented the couple with the chance to provide more evidence, this led to further difficulty. The couple was understandably frustrated, and rather than provide additional evidence, they attempted to defend their marriage in an emotional letter to USCIS. Again, USCIS officers were faced with a situation where the couple had not presented the necessary evidence, and again rejected the application. This time, however, USCIS called the couple in for an interview.
Already suspicious due to the lack of evidence, the immigration officer separated the couple at their interview, and asked each of them individually extremely specific questions about their daily lives, such as where they kept the dirty laundry. While the couple answered most of the questions correctly, they made a few mistakes in their descriptions. By themselves, these mistakes would most likely be overlooked, but given the history of the case, this was presented as further evidence of the marriage not being valid.
After this interview, the couple sought our help. In reviewing the case, we came to two immediate conclusions: first, the problems with this case could have been easily avoided, and second, USCIS was not being unfair or trying to reject the application; rather, their hands were simply tied by the lack of evidence.
Resolution of the Matter
To resolve the matter, we submitted the proper evidence, of which there turned out to be plenty, and we provided detailed explanations of why the evidence had not been presented initially. Luckily, USCIS granted the Green Card without requesting further interviews. Most likely, the officers who read the application before could not have approved the case without the proper evidence, even if they wanted to.
How to Best Present Your Case
In order to successfully obtain a marriage-based or family-based Green Card, the applicant must not only navigate the multiple forms required, but must also collect and organize the evidence necessary to establish a valid marriage. While you may know your marriage is valid, USCIS officers do not know you, your spouse, or your backgrounds.
The officers must use the evidence you present to establish the validity of the marriage. This is often a difficult concept for applicants to understand because they have never been presented with the need to describe their life story, their finances, and their intentions from papers and photos. It is an extremely difficult task, but the more evidence that can be presented, the easier it is for the visa officer to adjudicate the case
An immigration attorney will:
- Advise you on the best time to file your application and if there are any weaknesses in your case that must be resolved or accounted for;
- Assist you with completing the proper forms;
- Help you gather and assemble the proper evidence;
- Draft cover letters to include with the application;
- Draft letters of explanation that will assist the visa officer with understanding your case;
- Determine the best way to present your finances to show you can support your spouse;
- Communicate with USCIS on your behalf in the event of a delay or error;
- Coach you and your spouse on what to expect in the interview; and
- Act as your representative to USCIS and the State Department.
Taking The Next Step
A Green Card is an investment in a new life in the United States. As with any important investment, it is worth taking every step necessary to insure a positive outcome. Whether you want someone to handle your case to completion, or simply point you in the right direction, an immigration attorney is a necessary asset.