Fake Marriages Can Mean Very Real Fines

Although most marriages between United States citizens and immigrants are legitimate, sham marriages used to circumvent immigration laws are becoming more prevalent.  According to the Center for Immigration Studies, between 1998 and 2007 more than 2.3 million foreign nationals have gotten green cards by marrying U.S. citizens. It is unclear exactly how many of the 2.3 million obtained green cards through marriage fraud, but officials estimate it could be anywhere between 5% and %30.  Sham marriages create problems for those seeking citizenship through a legitimate marriage because the large number of fake marriage petitions clog the system and cause delays in applications.

In 2002, 107 South Carolina women were charged with violating marriage fraud statues when it was discovered they married 107 Middle Eastern men in a marriage fraud ring designed to get around immigration laws. The scheme was organized by six individuals and the women were given between $1,000 and $6,000 to participate so that the men could seek legal residency.  Homeland security officials uncovered the scheme in an operation known as “Operation Broken Vows” and did not discover any terrorism-related connections in the scheme.

Some immigrants seek marriages to U.S. citizens simply for citizenship purposes only, while others may have a more elaborate plan in mind.  Officials are becoming more aware that many terrorists marry U.S. citizens so they can remain in the U.S. in order to plan terrorist attacks.  For example, the terrorist who carried out the recent attempted car bombing in Times Square on May 3, 2010 obtained citizenship by marrying an American woman in 2008.

Immigration officials use certain tactics and procedures to try to discover and stop sham marriages. During the marriage green card application process, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) officials interview the couple to determine if the marriage is valid.  The couple may be asked to provide documents showing that they have established a life together, which might include documents showing joint ownership of property, a lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence, documents showing shared finances, birth certificates of children born to the couple during their marriage, etc. The couple may be questioned separately, and inconsistent answers may raise suspicions that the marriage is a sham. If the marriage is determined to be fraudulent, serious penalties will follow. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1325 (c), anyone who marries for the purpose of evading immigration laws in the United States faces a fine of $250,000 and five years in prison.

If you or someone you know is faced with an immigration issue, please call Miller|Conway, Charleston lawyers, located in Goose Creek, serving South Carolina. Initial consultations are always free.

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