Entering into a sham marriage only for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits is a serious matter that could have many consequences. It could lead to the deportation of the alien spouse and a bar on the approval of future immigrant visa petitions. Marriage fraud also gives rise to potential criminal violations for both spouses, the penalties for which include imprisonment and fine.
But what exactly is a sham marriage? If a man and a woman fall in love and marry after a whirlwind courtship of two weeks, and the man knew that the woman needed lawful immigration status to remain in the U.S. and promised to help her obtain a green card, is their marriage a sham?
A “sham marriage” has been described as one entered into for the primary purpose of evading immigration laws where the husband and wife have no intent of establishing a life together. Although they may have had a real marriage ceremony, if they did not intend a real marital relationship and establish a life together as husband and wife, their marriage is a sham.
In other words, if a marriage was entered into solely for the purpose of acquiring immigration benefits or evading immigration laws, it is not a valid marriage for immigration purposes.
However, if the parties had the intent of obtaining something other than love and companionship, as long as they intended to live as husband and wife at the start, the marriage is not a sham. In the example above, the marriage would not be a sham even though the parties also intended the marriage to help the wife become a lawful permanent resident aside from sharing a life together as husband and wife.
Suppose that the man in the example was already elderly and sick and needed someone to care for him, while the woman was unemployed with no place to live. They married and lived in the same house but without sleeping in the same bedroom or consummating their marriage. However, they promised to live together as husband and wife. A court found that under these circumstances, the marriage was not a sham and that cohabitation and consummation are not essential.
If, for example, the man and woman did cohabit for several months but their relationship soured quickly and the woman moved out of the house after only one year. They have no children and no properties. In this case, their marriage still would likely not be considered a sham. The law does not require the marriage to be an “ideal” or love-filled marriage.
The intent to live as husband and wife is a subjective matter that is proven through action or objective evidence. Documentary evidence showing that the couple held themselves out to the world as husband and wife should be brought to the interview.
These include joint tax returns, lease contract showing both their names, wedding photos and photos with family members, joint bank statements and credit card statements, birth certificates of children born to the marriage, telephone bills showing communication, medical records indicating the spouse as a person to contact, and affidavits of third parties with knowledge of the bona fides of the marriage.
Aside from evidence to be presented to the adjudication officer, the husband and wife should also be prepared for the personal interview. They should brace themselves for a detailed questioning about their personal lives. The officer may ask questions that seem too intrusive but are still within the bounds of law, unless they relate to sexual habits or personal eccentricities.
Inconsistencies in answers should be avoided because these will feed the suspicion of the officer. Immigration officers have great experience in detecting marriage fraud and they are skilled in uncovering lies based on conflicting information in the forms, documentary evidence and testimony. If fraud is suspected, the couple may be interviewed separately.