Marrying an immigrant simply to get them U.S. citizenship is a crime, and with good reason. Marriage fraud undermines the U.S. immigration system. It puts undue pressure on our economy and can even result in security threats to the country.
Just because you may have been accused of marriage fraud doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be convicted, though. If you are facing allegations, your first job is to make sure you understand the charges against you.
About Marital Fraud
In simplest terms, marital fraud means marrying someone for the sole purpose of helping them get U.S. citizenship. Of course, if you are in a relationship with a foreign national, you may be motivated to help them become an American citizen. There’s nothing wrong with that. Problems only arise if the two of you aren’t actually in a relationship.
Typically, this can happen in one of two ways:
- You marry a foreign national for pay or as some sort of favor. In other words, you knowingly commit marital fraud.
- You marry a foreign national believing the relationship is genuine only to discover this person is using you to obtain citizenship. In this case, you’ve done nothing wrong. Only your spouse has knowingly committed fraud.
How you defend yourself will have a great deal to do with your particular situation.
The most obvious penalty you face for committing marital fraud is jail time. 8 U.S.C. 1325(C) and 18 U.S.C. 1546 provide for a penalty of up to five years in prison for the offense. Under that statute, you can also be fined up to $250,000.
You run additional risks as well, of course. When you marry someone, you allow them access to sensitive information like your bank account or retirement account numbers, as well as your personal valuables. If you marry someone you do not know very well, you put all that in jeopardy.
Finally, if you help someone to enter the U.S. illegally, you cannot know whether or not they could pose a significant security threat to this country. The Department of Homeland Security notes that it has uncovered a number of “massive [marital fraud] schemes that involve complex organizations.” Marital fraud, then, can sometimes lead to much more serious charges.
Marital Fraud Investigations
U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically use two means of checking the legitimacy of a couple’s relationship.
The first of these is simple documentation. This begins, of course, with a marriage certificate. However, USCIS will likely ask for other kinds of documentation that can be used to prove your marriage is genuine. They might, for instance, ask to see proof that you have combined your bank accounts. They might want to see pictures of the two of you over time, demonstrating how close you are. They could demand to see utility bills listing both of you as residents at the same address.
In addition, USCIS will ask you questions directly as part of what is known as a Stokes interview. During this process, an immigration officer asks you questions, both together and separately, and compares your answers. These questions can sometimes be very personal, and may even feel invasive. They might include anything that could establish your relationship:
- How many televisions do you have in your home?
- What kind of birth control do you use?
- Do you have any pets?
- Who makes the meals in your home?
- What time did you go to bed last night?
Failure to provide the same answers can be taken as a sign that you are attempting to commit marriage fraud. So too, can any behaviors interviewers deem suspicious.
What to Do If You’re Being Investigated For Marital Fraud?
If you’re being investigated for marital fraud, or if you’ve been charged, don’t wait to see what may happen. The penalties can be serious.
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