By Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza

When people are desperate, they are tempted to take dangerous routes to get what they want even if the chances of success are small and the risk is high.  That is why those in positions of power have a great responsibility to promote wise decisions.  At the very least, they have a responsibility to avoid leading people down a path to disaster.  Unfortunately, not everyone considers that the actions or products they promote might have terrible unanticipated consequences for those who don’t know better.

People from all over the world want to come to live in the United States.  However, the desire does not necessarily lead to the reality.  Not everyone is eligible to immigrate to the United States.  One must qualify under either family-based or employment-based categories in order to make that happen.  (There are other requirements but now is not the time to discuss them).  Everyone knows you can’t choose your parents. And if yours don’t have US status, they can’t help you get it.  Having a child in the United States and waiting 21 years for them to petition for you (and avoiding being deported during that 2 decade – plus wait) seems a bit drastic.  Some people willing to take the longer view do choose their career on the basis of how that will help them immigrate but, that, too, is not something that happens immediately. And some may not want to wait.

But marriage to a United States citizen can make a green card happen. When a person who desires to immigrate falls in love with a United States citizen and the feeling is mutual and they decide to create a life together, the law provides that the citizen can file a petition for the immigrant that will lead to a green card.  Some people, however, are not fortunate enough to find someone that they want to share their life with who can also get them legal status.  They can then be tempted to enter into marriages solely for the purpose of getting a green card.  These are called sham (fake) marriages.  And because it is so tempting to many desperate people, Congress has passed laws and Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS) has promulgated regulations that make the repercussions Draconian for those who get caught.

And most people in sham marriages do get caught.  CIS investigates marriages to determine that they are real.  Real does not just mean legal.  It means based on a real relationship.  The legal term is “bona fide”.  If it determines that the marriage is not bona fide, it will, of course, deny the petition.  But the problem does not end there.  The immigrant is placed into Removal Proceedings where he or she faces the very real possibility of being deported.  And a subsequent marriage, or a petition from another family member or employer will not help.  Because a separate ramification is that the immigrant who has been found to have entered into marriage in order to get a green card is permanently barred from getting any benefits as a petitioner or a beneficiary of any family-based or employment-based petition.  This is true even if the sham marriage took place years ago and the immigrant is now married to a U.S. citizen and the parent of several U.S. citizens.  They will still have to leave.

That is the truth and the reality.  However, unfortunately, the television and movie industry finds sham marriages a source of entertainment.  Paying a United States citizen to marry an immigrant for a green card is portrayed as amusing and “no big deal”.  Well, it is a crime and an immigration violation so it is a big deal.

The debate over the impact of the media on individual’s actions is ongoing.  What impact does what we see have on what we do is still an open question.  But if a desperate person sees someone they admire (even if they see them portraying a fictional character) succeeding in a course of action, they may be tempted to do the same.  A currently very popular television serial portrays its main characters as engaging in a sham marriage for immigration purposes.  It has resulted in many people asking those in the legal community if they should do the same.  So the answer is an unequivocal No! No matter how desperate you are, you should not take steps that will make your situation worse.  Television is fiction.  Don’t confuse it with facts.  To get the real facts about how to resolve your immigration problem, consult with a licensed, reputable, experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney.

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