There are recent reports that the Department of Homeland Security will start reviewing the social media accounts of immigrants. This data collection can apply in countless scenarios, but is especially applicable when investigating requests for permanent resident status (green card) based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen.
There is a common American saying that “desperate times call for desperate measures.” That may be true in some instances, but when thinking about the desperate act of marrying someone solely for a green card, the truth is that these desperate measures are likely to produce disastrous results.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) refers to marriages entered into solely for immigration benefits as a “sham marriage.” However, people casually refer to it as a “green card marriage.” Regardless of the exact name though, we are all referring to the same thing – a foreign national marrying a U.S. citizen because they want a green card. Some people view this as a win-win scenario – the foreign national receives their green card and the U.S. citizen also receives a desired benefit, which is usually money. But you know who does not view this as a win-win scenario? The USCIS!
Many people mistakenly believe that marrying a U.S. citizen is an easy way to obtain a green card. They pretend they are a couple, submit staged fake photographs, and even memorize personal information about their “spouse” so that they can pass the required interview. However, the USCIS is well aware of these tricks, and they therefore dedicate a substantial amount of resources towards detecting these “sham marriages.” Because of the USCIS’ efforts, it is crucial that a person applying for a green card on the basis of their marriage understand what the USCIS considers to be a valid marriage for immigration purposes.
The intending immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse must prove that their marriage is “bonafide.” It is not the USCIS’ responsibility to prove the marriage is a sham, but rather the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse’s burden to show that they “intended to establish a life together” at the time they entered into their marriage. This is not an easy task because the USCIS officers are highly trained to detect sham marriages.
Oral statements of the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse are not sufficient, and neither are written statements of friends and family members. On the contrary, the USCIS will also want to closely examine the conduct of the parties, e.g., is the couple residing together, how long have they known each other, are they conducting themselves as husband and wife, etc. The USCIS will also consider whether the parties have a sufficient amount of documentation proving the bonafides of their marriage.
The USCIS will also commonly want to ask the immigrant and their U.S. citizen spouse personal questions about their relationship. The potential questions a person may be asked are nearly limitless, as the USCIS may ask just about anything they believe a person should know about their spouse. While you can try and learn as much as possible about your spouse, it is virtually impossible to learn enough about another person if you are not really married to them. Sure you can learn your spouse’s date-of-birth or name of their employer, but how do you expect to know about your spouse’s daily routine unless you are married? That is just one the many types of questions the USCIS may ask to determine if the marriage is valid for immigration purposes.
At the conclusion of your personal interview, the USCIS officer has the discretion to determine that the marriage is legitimate. But they also have the authority to determine that a further investigation is necessary. This may involve the officer reviewing social media accounts, visits to the couple’s places of work, attempts to speak with the couple’s neighbors, etc. In these instances, the personal interview is really just the beginning of the investigation.
The risks of entering into a “sham marriage” are substantial. Fines, jail time, but no green card. In fact, the person being petitioned will be barred from ever being petitioned again as an immigrant, even if the subsequent relationship is bonafide. We all understand that sometimes you may think a “green card marriage” is the only option, but an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney will advise you against following this illegal, and almost sure-to-fail path.