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Marriage for Love or Green Card: An Immigrant’s Dilemma

When a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen, the law permits that non-US citizen to file for permanent residency in the States. But the whole controversy revolves around one question: has the marriage been entered into in good faith? Or is the marriage just a ticket to get permanent US citizenship?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reserves the right to conclude that a marriage is a sham marriage amounting to fraud, entered into solely to obtain immigration benefits (read green card), and the application for permanent residency can be denied. The onus is on the couple to convince USCIS that their marriage is a good faith marriage.

Establishing the validity of a marriage involving an immigrant and a U.S. citizen hangs on preponderance of evidence. It’s a protracted battle and not an easy one as demonstrated by the following case.

Gerardo Hernandez Lara, a Mexican citizen, married a U.S. citizen Diana Winger in 1988. Hernandez gained conditional permanent residency based on that marriage but never completed the process necessary to obtain unconditional permanent residency. He was placed under removal order in 2008, 10 years after his divorce with Winger.

Hernandez testified at the removal hearing that he had married in good faith and the government offered no evidence to the contrary. However, the immigration judge (IJ) determined that Hernandez’s marriage was not bona fide and ordered his eviction.

The Board of Immigration Appeals evaluated Hernandez’s appeal and concluded that he hadn’t been able to prove by a preponderance of evidence that his marriage was bona fide. It wanted more proof from him to satisfy a preponderance standard. All this while Hernandez had been maintaining that he had married for love, not immigration benefits.

Hernandez didn’t appear for the joint interview (scheduled for December 1990), a prerequisite to establish a bona fide marriage and removal of the conditions on residency. Hernandez told immigration officials in a sworn statement that Winger had left him 1.5 months earlier because she was angry at him for moonlighting and coming home late, and that he had not seen her since.

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