Man Convicted of Illegally Obtaining Citizenship Through Marriage Fraud
by Raymond G. Lahoud, Esquire
A Columbus, Ohio man was recently convicted of unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. The guilty verdict was handed down after a joint investigation by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Homeland Security Investigations, which revealed that the man committed marriage fraud in order to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The 41-year-old man at the center of the case came to the United States from Pakistan on a visitor’s visa, married a U.S. citizen and eventually became a naturalized citizen. All the while, he was married with children in Pakistan, a fact that he unlawfully withheld from authorities during the naturalization process.
What is marriage fraud?
Simply put, marriage fraud involves entering into a marriage specifically for the purpose of procuring naturalization, or U.S. citizenship. Related, covering up relevant details to make a marriage appear legitimate—as happened in the case of the Columbus man—is also considered a form of marriage fraud.
Marriage fraud is an ongoing problem for USCIS. It raises national security concerns and requires the use of resources that might otherwise be directed toward assisting legitimate candidates for naturalization. According to USCIS, several hundred cases of marriage fraud are discovered each year. Most of these become apparent during the process of naturalization, and the individuals involved never successfully become U.S. citizens.
While the case of the Columbus man was obviously one that initially didn’t trip up immigration authorities, the truth is that successfully entering into a sham marriage in pursuit of U.S. citizenship is extraordinarily difficult. Most people who try to do so underestimate the extent to which USCIS investigates the individuals involved in possible marriage fraud cases, or how easily a sham marriage can be uncovered. USCIS officials will ask questions about everything from where and how a couple celebrates holidays to their daily routines and their plans for the future.
Even though they haven’t done anything wrong, immigrants who have entered into legitimate marriages and wish to become U.S. citizens still face tremendous challenges. The bureaucratic process alone can be time-consuming and stressful, but the fear of having their marriage perceived as illegitimate certainly adds another difficult element.
Fortunately, an experienced and knowledgeable Pennsylvania immigration attorney with Baurkot & Baurkot can help. If you are interested in pursuing naturalized citizenship but have questions or concerns about the role of your marriage in the process, get in touch with us today.
How Does Citizenship Differ from Having a Green Card?
For those who are looking to gain rights afforded by the United States, terms like “green card” and “citizenship” may appear to be used interchangeably. However, the law views citizenship status as something entirely different than holding a valid green card. As individuals seek to lawfully live within U.S. borders, it’s important for each individual to have an understanding of what rights each status provides.
Becoming a citizen of the United States means that an individual has a right to permanently live within the country and is unable to be deported. If you achieve this status, it is virtually impossible for government and legal authorities to take away your citizenship. Once citizenship is achieved, it remains valid for the rest of your life.
As a U.S. citizen, you will have all of the rights of a natural-born U.S. citizen. This is why the steps involved in the citizenship process are typically referred to as “naturalization.” When this process is complete, you will have the right to vote, be fully protected under the U.S. Constitution, be able to travel abroad for extended periods of time and have the ability to petition the government to bring multiple foreign family members into the United States.
Limitations of green card status
Green card holders do not have the all-encompassing rights of U.S. citizenship. A green card is issued by the government to a person who seeks permanent residency in the United States. By having this card, you have the legal right to remain in the United States for the rest of your life. You also have the right to work for a U.S. employer for as long as necessary. When you achieve this status, you can travel abroad and file to have family members become green card holders.
Unlike U.S. citizenship, green card status can be revoked. As an example, if a green card holder resides outside the United States for extended periods of time, he or she can risk being seen by the government as abandoning the permanent place of residence. Other ways to lose this status include involvement in crime against others or the country, as well as any failure to keep the government aware of your location. Green card holders are also not able to vote, live abroad for lengthy periods of time or secure some of the other legal benefits that are offered to naturalized residents.
Deciding whether your situation requires citizenship or green card status is an important choice that should be made with the counsel of an expert. To learn more about applying for U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, contact a skilled Pennsylvania immigration lawyer by reaching out to Baurkot & Baurkot today.