UPDATED – Marriage Based Green Card Interview Horror Stories; Where Do They Come From?
Published: February 4, 2012
Question: Which travels quicker – good news or bad news? Bad news, of course. “Train Wrecks” are exciting, interesting, sensational and sometimes, satisfying – especially when it concerns the failure… of others. To confirm this notion, all one has to do is visit the grocery line and review the covers of those grocery line magazines, or tune in to TMZ, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight or another similarly sophisticated television program. For instance – in the U.S. government realm, when was the last time you heard about how great the U.S. postal system, or any government agency, was working? And those green card interview stories, where marriage to a U.S. citizen is involved! Everyone has heard about them – either from their friends or acquaintances, the movie “Green Card”, or simply by surfing the internet and having the good (mis)fortune of reviewing this or that immigration blog. “I heard that they separate the couple and berate each party individually”, “I heard the immigration officer calls the parents of each party and ask lots of questions”, “I heard they send big and tough immigration agents to the home to visit to make sure the couple really lives together.” Certainly, those types of accounts are enough to stir up anxiety in anyone thinking about starting this process.
And in some circumstances, these stories may be true – but are they representative or typical? In fact, most immigration interviews dealing with marriage applications are conducted in a civil manner and do not involve extraordinary immigration officer action, whether conducted in the U.S. at a local Citizenship and Immigration Services office, or at a U.S. consular post abroad. That is, the governmental official conducting the interview has a duty to be respectful and dignified when doing their job – no matter the issues or suspicions involved. The outcome should, and usually is, dictated by the sincerity of the couple presenting themselves. When the wrong outcome results, there is indeed legal recourse available, although the wheels of justice to undo such a wrong in this arena tend to move very slowly.
In marriage based interviews, the bona fides, or sincerity, of the marriage is usually what is at issue, and immigration officers have a duty to make an assessment. In these times – with much of the rest of the world’s economies crumbling and so many foreign nationals seeking to make a better life here in the U.S., immigration fraud and “marriages of convenience” are rampant. It is indeed the immigration officer’s job to scrutinize, and send a statement that applicants for U.S. residence will only be issued an approval after the immigration institution is satisfied that the marriage is “for real”. Again, scrutiny and review can and should be conducted in a civil manner – however, as with any group of individuals who hold immense power – such as immigration officers, there is bound to be a certain percentage who abuse their power. This sad reality is particularly troublesome when the application being reviewed is a “clean case”, with parties who have nothing but the sincerest of intentions and there being no indication of “monkey business”.
What factors typically give rise to marriage fraud suspicions? (Some of these may not apply for applicants being interviewed overseas). Big age difference between the parties. Significant difference in their cultural and/or religious backgrounds. The foreign national applicant’s immigration law violations e.g. out of status, no status, history of unauthorized employment, etc. Prior immigration applications, especially prior marriage based filings. Quickie marriage based on a relationship of short duration.
Public Record Searches and Online Investigation: Immigration authorities are also known these days to engage in extensive public records searches and online investigations. It is not uncommon for immigration officers to conduct credit checks and address searches based on social security numbers the parties provide. A person with awful credit may be perceived as being inclined to marry a foreign national for a fee, and not love. Also, suspicions may arise if the addresses that come up in a credit check do not match up with information in the immigration filing. Further, information connected to an applicant’s online identity on a social networking site may conflict with information including in their immigration filing. Yes, the beauty of the information age is that there is so much of it out there. But, as most internet users know, there exists the danger that not all of the information “out there” is accurate, and that applies to the information authorities may jump on to reach conclusions about an applicant’s eligibility for a green card. Under the law though, the parties should be given an opportunity to address or clarify any derogatory or conflicting information that may arise during the process.
As we know that marriages come in all sizes, shapes, colors and flavors, no single factor will necessarily doom a case or cause irresolvable difficulties. It is just that the immigration officer will have a good reason to ask more questions, and perhaps refer the file for a formal investigation.
How important is it to obtain documentation reflecting joint or commingled assets, and shared residence? Documentation, such as bank statements, bills, photographs, leases, etc., to substantiate a claim that a couple lives together is certainly important, but it is no way the end of the story. The bottom line is that anyone, including individuals that do not actually reside together, can obtain a joint bank account, a lease, a bill or whatever, indicating a common address.
In my many years representing applicants for residence during their interview, I have found that the couples’ body language what tells the story, and is more compelling than any joint asset/obligation document. An experienced officer can tell a lot from watching how a couple interacts during an interview. Yes, it is quite ok and normal for an applicant to exhibit some level of nervousness. Beyond normal nervousness, however, either or both of the parties might display certain suspicious idiosyncrasies that prompt concern. What are those idiosyncrasies? Too hard to describe in words, and but in the spirit of the legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s approach to defining “pornography”, an immigration officer might say, “I know it when I see it”.
PUBLISHED February 4, 2012 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM”
Copyright © 2012, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois