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Deportation is a major fear for anyone who is in the United States without lawful status. If you’re facing removal from the country, you might be wondering if marriage to a US citizen could help you defend yourself against deportation.

First, it’s important to point out that you cannot get married just to get your lawful immigration papers. Marriages that are contracted with the primary purpose of getting status are known as “sham marriages”. The penalties for sham marriages are severe and include jail time.

That being said, immigration concerns do often nudge people already in committed relationships to tie the knot. And that’s ok, so long as the primary purpose of the marriage is to build a life together. 

While it is possible in certain instances that marriage to a US citizen will enable an applicant to  successfully adjust status after removal proceedings have already begun, it can be a lengthy process.. Also, you will need to convince some skeptical adjudicators of your sincere, bona fide marriage before you qualify for adjustment of status.

At Pelton + Balducci, our attorneys have decades of experience defending clients against deportation. Below is our breakdown of some of the challenges of using marriage to defend against deportation.

Issues with getting married to fight deportation

If you are arrested and threatened with deportation, there are a number of ways you can potentially defend yourself against the worst possible outcome. One of these ways is to apply for an “adjustment of status.”

“Adjustment of status” is the term used for becoming a lawful permanent resident without having to leave the U.S. This process serves as a defense to removal (i.e., deportation) and saves you the trouble and uncertainty of having to leave the country to consular process your immigrant visa status (lawful permanent resident status).

While it is possible for you to marry a US citizen and then apply for adjustment of status after the initiation of removal proceedings, your marriage alone is not enough. There are other requirements:

  • Lawful entry: An individual facing deportation can usually only apply for adjustment of status through marriage if they entered the country legally. You can prove your lawful entry with your I-94 entry stamp or online I-94 record.
  • Getting a bond: It will be extremely difficult for you to get married and go through all of the necessary paperwork if you are still in detention at an immigration facility, though not impossible. Ideally, you will secure release on bond so that you can continue fighting your case outside of detention. If you have criminal issues, or already have an outstanding order of removal at the time of your detention, you may not be eligible for a bond at all.
  • Proving the legitimacy of the marriage: With any marriage to a US citizen, you will need to prove to USCIS that your marriage is “bona fide,” or a legitimate partnership that is not just being used to gain access to a green card. If you are undergoing deportation proceedings, USCIS will presume your marriage was entered into for immigration purposes. This means you will have to work harder to prove that your marriage is bona fide than you otherwise would. You must provide “clear and convincing” evidence that your marriage was entered into for the sincere purpose of establishing a life together.
  • Waiting for a USCIS adjudication: Assuming you meet all the above requirements, you will still have to wait for USCIS to acknowledge your marriage as bona fide before an immigration judge has jurisdiction to adjust your status. When USCIS processing times are long, you’ll have to request continuances from the court to get the time needed for USCIS to decide whether your marriage is legit. Even under normal circumstances, waiting for the USCIS I-130 marriage interview can take more than one year.
    Once you are invited to USCIS for a marriage interview, adequate preparation is the key to success. Due to the higher level of scrutiny applied to marriages entered into during removal proceedings, such cases may be more likely to undergo a separation interview, ie. an interview where USCIS questions each spouse separately to compare their responses and note inconsistencies.

As you can see, using  marriage to stop deportation is not as easy as it may sound. A married couple really needs to be together for the long haul, as the entire process will generally last more than one year and the evidence required is highly personal.

In order to successfully defend yourself against deportation, you will need the help of an experienced immigration attorney.

Other ways to fight deportation

There are other routes you can take in order to fight deportation in immigration court:

  • Adjustment of status for some reason other than marriage
  • Inadmissibility waiver or cancellation of removal if you have lived in the U.S. for a certain number of years and you can argue that your “good moral character” outweighs any offenses. You’ll generally also need to show that certain family members will suffer a very high level of hardship without you
  • Asylum if you fear returning to your home country because of persecution
  • A U-Visa if you have been the victim of a violent crime and are in the process of helping the police or other law enforcement investigate or prosecute the crime
  • Voluntary departure as a last resort, but only if you truly plan to depart timely, which in some cases may preserve the option of returning to the US in the future

Contact a deportation defense attorney in Louisiana

At Pelton & Balducci, our attorneys have over 30 years of combined experience in immigration law, and have helped many families defend against deportation orders. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and talk about your case.

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