How can I persuade my friend to not enter a green card marriage?
August 31, 2010 7:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I persuade my friend to not enter a green card marriage?

My friend just recently told me he's entering a green card marriage with this woman in exchange for money. I'm not really comfortable with him engaging in this transaction and constantly telling him the consequences of jail time and a fine. My friend and his "fiancée" have a positive relationship and are planning to get a prenuptial agreement (She has a inheritance from her family which she does not want to pass it on to him).

Regardless if they pull it off, I keep telling him, even with a prenuptial agreement, he may have to pay off her debt if she were to trick my friend as the sole purpose of the marriage. My friend swears through a prenuptial agreement, he's safe from avoiding any debt from her.

Besides the consequences of jail time and a fine, what other marriage legality issues he can find himself into if she were to have debt or any sort of situation that can endanger his credit?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are they aware of the probational nature of the green card, and the fact that in two years they will have to prove (maybe with documents, photos, etc) that the marriage was legit?

Is he aware that the one way that a probational green card can become permanent despite the marriage ending is if she accuses him of domestic abuse? If she gets worried about proving they're in love for two years, she may decide it's easier to prove that he was abusive. And regardless of the outcome, you can imagine the changes to his life that will stem from the accusation itself.
posted by hammurderer at 7:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer, but doesn't this count as fraud? The kind you can go to jail for? Your friend's choices are his own, but tell him for god's sake, stop going around and telling people that he's committing a federal crime!
posted by pickypicky at 7:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

A friend did something similar, and it all worked out OK, but then the foreign national ended up going back to her country, and many years later, when he wanted to marry for reals, not being able to find the first wife and nullify that marriage was a hassle.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:23 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, they could purchase property together and then she could get bored with the situation or fall in love with someone else and leave the country without divorcing your friend... or even telling him.

Then, when the property is too expensive for your friend to pay for on his own, he'd be forced to pay the debt on his own. But just so you know, I have a friend who did this about 15 years ago and she and the guy were literally best friends. He never meant to screw her over; they are still friends today, actually.

But she started dating another guy after Sir Greencard returned to (country of origin). After awhile she wanted to marry her boyfriend, but couldn't get ahold of Sir Greencard to divorce.

Her fiance was majorly pissed that they had to file abandonment as cause for her divorce and then wait 3 years while people in the States tried to locate SG. She had trouble explaining to people why they'd announced their engagement, then *crickets* about the ceremony... because it took FOREVER.

The guy finally signed papers and she remarried, but again, even under the best circumstances there are still unforeseen consequences to sham marriages.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:26 PM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

oh snap, StickyCarpet, shoulda previewed!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2010

well... do you know there is significant debt? The way this is worded it sounds like it is entirely possible she has greater assets than he does. It is not going to make you feel better about this, but I'd wager going into this he holds an imbalance of power over her future. An entirely plausible sounding story "She tricked me into thinking she loved me so we would get married..." is about all that stands between her and deportation. So it hardly is a one way street of risk.

IMO, you have made your case to your friend why you think this is a bad idea, at this point it may be best to decide how to proceed. If you want to remain friends you might have to just deal with the issue by dropping the issue. Or, if you are stuck on principal you could exclude this person from your life until some future date when the transaction is done... or, I suppose you could report her to ICE, prior to the nuptials. (This will kill the friendship dead dead dead and probably cause serious distress in many people's lives).
posted by edgeways at 7:32 PM on August 31, 2010

Does he know that he will have to sign an affidavit of support which will make him liable for her financial support for ten years, even if they divorce?
posted by buxtonbluecat at 7:34 PM on August 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

The best way to persuade him would to say that when it happens you'll contact U.S. Immigration and tell them that it's a fake marriage; he's accepting a bribe so she can obtain a green card.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:37 PM on August 31, 2010

You make "jail time" sound so run-of-the-mill. I understand it's five years of jail time. And that the State Department is scrutinizing and prosecuting it pretty closely in These Turbulent Times. And that it's a felony which will stay on his record forever and ever, and essentially render him permanently un-hire-able.
posted by ErikaB at 7:40 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is this person legal to begin with? Because speaking as someone who's life is impacted daily by immigration issues, I have to mention that the Patriot Act closed some major loopholes in terms of marriage fixing immigration statuses. If the intended bride is not already here legally, getting married gains him/her nothing, and can make things a LOT worse.

Seriously, though: Skip the scare tactics. Get him to agree to something totally reasonable like a 20 minute sit-down with an immigration lawyer. A lot of lawyers will give you 30 minutes free on first consultation, I gather.

If an immigration lawyer can't change his resolve, well, your friends a big boy & will just have to learn in the school of hard knocks. Maybe he'll get lucky & everything will turn up roses.
posted by Ys at 7:44 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

A friend can't get married to the woman he loves because the greencard wife skipped the country.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:01 PM on August 31, 2010

I knew someone who did this years ago and their credit was absolutely ruined as a result. Couldn't even get an emergency credit card. That's not to even start with the legalities. IANYL and don't even reall know much about it, but probably very bad idea.
posted by whoaali at 8:14 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to be a paralegal for an immigration lawyer. It's hard enough to get a green card if you're actually honest-to-god married and in love with a person.

-You have to (note that from here on in when I say "have to" I mostly mean "it's best if you" sort of mean "really should because they're not going to believe you") send them pictures of the couple dating, being engaged, getting married, meeting each other's parents, etc, the more the better.
-You have to send in copies of wedding cards/notes of congratulations on the wedding/engagement from friends and relatives.
-You have to establish that you participate in activities jointly (if you have a pet, it is registered in both the husband and wife's name in the vet records, you have auto/health/home insurance together, you have a joint checking account, joint gym memberships, etc).
-There is an interview where the immigration officer questions both parties separately and, if suspicion is aroused, will ask questions like, "what brand of toothpaste do you use? what side of the bed do each of you sleep on? which way does the ceiling fan in your bedroom turn? in your kitchen, is the refrigerator to the left or right of the sink?" (I wish I were making this up, but I'm not).

And a lot more that it's pointless to go into because this is such a ridiculously bad idea it's not even worth explaining all the reasons why.

If the potential fiancee has a lot of money and wants a fast-track immigration path, she should look into an EB-5 investment visa. Otherwise, move along.

If you can't convince him not to go through with this, at least try to get him to talk to an immigration lawyer. The attorney won't report him to authorities (probably), and will explain to him in detail why this is dumb.
posted by phunniemee at 8:20 PM on August 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

How about looking at it from another perspective - by gaming the system, he's making the green card process so much more difficult for people who genuinely do want to spend the rest of their lives together and have to jump through ridiculous and expensive bureaucratic hoops to do so.
posted by Kappi at 8:22 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

To be honest, I believe they could pull it off because they are so affectionate towards each other but again, the legal consequences of immigration fraud makes me worry for my friend.

Is it a situation where they would be dating, but not marry and only adding the marriage part so she can move to the country?
posted by delmoi at 8:31 PM on August 31, 2010

Might want to remove your real name from your mefi profile, btw. I mean, it's unlikely that this post might turn up but you never know.
posted by delmoi at 8:32 PM on August 31, 2010

I believe they could pull it off because they are so affectionate towards each other

This. Immigration doesn't care how many kissy booboo schmoopy faces they can make at each other. Even the nicest officer can get downright nasty with the questioning if they suspect something's up. (And I have seen couples who have been legitimately together (married, even!) for a decade be suspected of lying about their relationship.) If they get caught in a lie (and the interviewing officers get paid to catch folks in lies), they are going to be in a world of hurt.
posted by phunniemee at 8:35 PM on August 31, 2010

It's hard enough to get a green card if you're actually honest-to-god married and in love with a person.

I totally agree with this. When we went in for the two year evaluation, the kinds of questions they asked would be VERY difficult to get right unless you were living with and interacting with the other person on a daily basis. Like phunniemee said, they asked us - in separate interviews - to tell a lot of details about our daily lives together, the apartment we were living in, our friends and family, how we met, how we dealt with finances, and so on. I was sure that we had totally failed, because it was all stuff that you would never in a million years think that they would ask. It really isn't as easy as it seems.
posted by gemmy at 8:36 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

"How can I persuade my friend to not enter a green card marriage?"

Report both of them now and tell them you've done so.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:43 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pretty sure that if your friend is caught, he/she is facing federal prison time ... and the legal troubles could very easily compound, because lying to a federal law enforcement agent is a crime separate from the underlying crime that the agent is investigating.
posted by jayder at 9:02 PM on August 31, 2010

which will make him liable for her financial support for ten years, even if they divorce?

Not just ten years: forty quarters of Social Security credits, which means she has to earn them, or until she becomes a citizen. Also, being able to show affection doesn't count anywhere near as much as a hefty paper trail that shows cohabitation and commingling of assets.

I believe they're being sponsored by one of the fiancée's uncle through the affidavit of support.

Well, that by itself could potentially set off red flags. When co-sponsors are involved in marriage-based green card applications, they generally come from the citizen's side.

From an ethical perspective, I have sympathy for couples who can't get marriage visas (i.e. gay partners) using green card marriages and willing third-parties to remain in the US. I don't have any sympathy for someone doing it for money: it pisses in the pool for everyone else.

From a pragmatic perspective: born-in-the-USAers understandably tend to get their sense of the country's immigration system through blurry filters, because they don't have to deal with it unless they choose to do so. It's a fucking bureaucratic minefield for those who play by the rules, and it's set up to bite hard if you step through the door and try to pull one over on it.
posted by holgate at 9:29 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention, I believe they're being sponsored by one of the fiancée's uncle through the affidavit of support.

That is supplemental to the main sponsor, ie, your friend. Your friend is still on the hook to any governmental agency that provides his fiancee support during the ten year period.

USCIS really likes seeing a joint bank account. I saw my Immigration Officer look at one statement to see what type of charges were on it.

In many states, he is considered the father of her child because of their marriage, no matter who the biological father is. I have heard rumors of USCIS doing DNA testing.

If he winds up in the hospital, she is his next of kin. Does he trust her to make those decisions in the place of his family?

Without a will, in many states, she is his heir. Does he trust her to pass these assets on to the parties he desires? (It might look odd that he left nothing to his wife in his will.)

This is best as a one shot only deal- sponsor only one spouse in a lifetime. (Convincing USCIS the second one was for love after the first was, as well, is much harder!) Following this cuts off a good chunk of the planet as prospective partners.
posted by Monday at 9:42 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, I'm really surprised that couples have had the separate interviews situation, grilled about intimate details, even though they'd been together a long time. That wasn't my experience at all last year; our interview was quick, and the officer barely glanced at the photo album I spent hours putting together or the stack of documents we had assembled (he spent most of his time cracking random jokes). Our interview couldn't have been more than ten minutes (also let me stress we had a joint apartment lease dating back seven years, plus joint bank accounts, death beneficiary forms, and pictures of both our families at our somewhat large wedding two years prior).

But I digress. I in no way would recommend going through with this act of fraud. The penalties (fines, jail, ruined credit, hurdles to second marriages) are not really worth any amount of money.

As a friend, all you can really do is pass along your misgivings, though. It's not your decision and you can't control your friend. He will be the one to suffer the consequence; the best you can do is gather info and let him know what those potential consequences are.
posted by JenMarie at 9:51 PM on August 31, 2010

I was an overstay that just got married to my wonderful husband. Proving that we weren't committing fraud was hard, and if you're not for real, the government WILL FIND OUT. Trust me. Not only that, but the paperwork is insane. Lots of fees to pay, lots of papers to file. They will ask you for evidence that you're living together and that you have known each other for a very long time. They will go over this evidence and ask you about every little detail of it. The officer that interviews your friend will have MEMORIZED the file, and if she feels something is off she will ask questions from it randomly. Like someone said above, the card is conditional. You have to wait two years to apply for the one that isn't. And you will need NEW proof that the marriage is valid.

This is going to end badly for your friend.
posted by cobain_angel at 10:45 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

not to be flippant, but OMG don't these people watch movies? Quintessential movie about this is "Green Card", and most recently "The Proposal" and I'm sure there are countless others in between. This might not be the best method of aversion, because they do wind up with happy endings, but STILL they show what a pain in the ass it would be. I mean, SHIT, you could end up married to the gender-appropriate equivalent of Gerard dePardieu. Ok, maybe i'm a little flippant ;-) Legit marriages to people you love are hard enough when you don't have to prove that you're legit and in love.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 10:45 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a dear friend who did this for her dear friend, and it all ended well, and there were no gotcha interviews that sent either her or her once-alien husband to jail.

That said, it's more than a casual commitment. If you get married in a situation like this, you had better have the commitment to either live together or pretend very vividly that you do for awhile. Messing this up can be very messy. Not messing it up can mean that a wonderful person isn't hounded out of the country, of course, so by all means let your friend explore this option if he's clear on what he's taking on. US immigration policy is incredibly dysfunctional; if your friend is committed to helping a friend this way, he may be doing everyone a heroic favor.
posted by gum at 12:05 AM on September 1, 2010

Don't make it about him doing something wrong, make it about him doing this right.

That is, tell him that if he wants to dothis and get away with it, he needs to do his research. Extensively. Consultation with a lawyer (or two or three), talking with people who've done it (with both good and bad experiences), preparing for and thinking about worse case scenarios, and so on.

If that doesn't change his mind, at least he'll be going into it as prepared as possible.

He shouldn't keep anything (notes, prep, research) written down if it's even potentially incriminating.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:29 AM on September 1, 2010

He also needs to not discuss this with anybody. That means that as far as his friends/family/exes/potential future partners are concerned, this is a romantic marriage, and the future divorce is an unpleasant surprise. Maybe that will affect his thinking some too.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:35 AM on September 1, 2010

I have heard rumors of USCIS doing DNA testing.

This is no rumor. USCIS (see AFM Chapter 21.2(d)) and the Deaprtment of State abroad do genetic testing all the time.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:02 AM on September 1, 2010

I've seen this work when it was sorta real, i.e., a couple that wouldn't have gotten married if not for the green card, but that were at least fooling around with each other. (Never heard about any crazy interview process and fear of fraud, but not people I knew super well.)

But my biggest concern would be, what happens to everyone's love life? If you're married, you can't exactly date, can you? Or if you can, then you are just blatantly telling everyone it's a sham, and someone's probably gonna be peeved about that and turn you in (look how many on this thread have made comments along those lines).
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on September 1, 2010

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