- What if I am accused of Marriage Fraud?
The best way to prevent an accusation of marriage fraud is to document the validity of your marriage thoroughly and exhaustively, from the outset. There is no such thing as submitting too much evidence. In filing the I-130, you can provide any credible evidence to establish that your marriage is bona fide; you can also bring additional evidence to the interview, that you obtain between the time of filing and the interview.
If the USCIS officer suspects marriage fraud, you will likely be referred for a second ‘marriage fraud’ interview, typically referred to as a ‘Stokes interview.’
Some red flags for an officer may be if a couple: has a significant age gap, doesn’t speak the same language, are of different religions, does not live together (or has never lived together), has had multiple divorces, has filed numerous prior petitions, dated for a short period of time, or married while one party is in removal proceedings.
A Stokes interview could be conducted the same day as the initial interview or scheduled for a later date.
During the interview, the couple will be separated, and likely asked a series of identical questions. The officer will compare the answers to see if the answers match. Another tactic that an officer may use is to examine the house keys of a couple, to see if they match. In extreme cases, an officer may visit the couple’s home to confirm that they live together.
If you have a few of the red flags, or if you have been referred for a Stokes (fraud) interview, you must consult an experienced immigration attorney. An attorney may accompany you to your interview, and an experienced attorney will help you decide whether that is advisable and will help you prepare fully for the interview.
- Challenging Marriage Fraud
If USCIS believes that you have engaged in marriage fraud, the officer may request more evidence that your marriage is bona fide. Alternatively, your case may be denied, and USCIS would likely institute removal proceedings against you.
In most cases, you will be able to argue that your marriage is bona fide, in front of the immigration judge. Many people have non-traditional marriages or ‘anomalies’ in their relationship; however, oddities must be documented and explained. It is imperative to challenge a finding or allegation of marriage fraud, as the penalties can be severe.
- Penalties for Committing Marriage Fraud
If an individual is suspected of marriage fraud, they could face many penalties criminal, immigration and civil penalties.
Deportation: If you are a non-citizen, immigration can initiate removal proceedings against you, and if you hold a non-immigrant visa (example: tourist or student visa), it could be revoked.
Civil: A formal finding of marriage fraud will also preclude you from having another immigrant visa/green card approved in the future (even if the future marriage is legitimate). This is true for people who have entered, attempted to enter into, or “conspired to enter into a marriage for the purposes of evading the immigration laws” of the United States. INA §204(c)
Criminal: Committing Marriage Fraud, to evade US immigration law is a federal offense. It carries a fine of up to $250,000 and 5 years in prison.
Depending on the circumstances of the fraud, and representations made to consular or USCIS official, an individual may also be charged with visa fraud, or making misrepresentations.
If you have been charged with marriage fraud, or are having trouble documenting your relationship, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced in marriage-based green cards. Please feel free to call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help!