I am constantly faced with the following question/fact pattern:

My boyfriend and I love each other a lot. She is a US Citizen. If we marry, in how long will they send me my green card?

The truthful (kind of mean) answer to this question is: Never. There is a huge confusion out there as to how the US government is organized. This would obviously would be a semester’s worth class, but let me try to do a simple explanation here.

The word “Immigration” means a lot of things. A lot of entities compose what we called “immigration”. It would take long to explain but what has to be understood is that Immigration is a federal body. The US is composed of States, and of the Federal Government. States regulate certain aspects of human life, like crimes, school, traffic, and marriage. The federal government regulates other aspects like taxes, employment and Immigration.[1]

Since states regulate marriage, that is where you have to go to get married. If you live in Florida, you will go to a state court in Florida and get married. If you marry in a state court, and do nothing else, you will never ever obtain a green card. Never. Marriage literally gives you nothing in terms of immigration benefits. You have to go to the federal government and tell them that you got married. “Tell them” is a euphemism because in reality, it is a complex paper work process you have to follow, for which it is recommendable to get an immigration attorney.

But the story does not end here. Even if you marry, and then go to the federal government to request for a green card, you are not necessarily entitled to one. If you are Osama Bin Laden, and you marry a US citizen, I guarantee you; you will not get a green card. Osama is the extreme example, but much much lighter criminal violations could disqualify you from getting a green card. Pay attention to all charges related to fraud.[2] Shop lifting a soda could potentially disqualify you.

In addition to criminal issues, it is very important to take into consideration how you entered the United States. If you entered legally, and overstayed your visa, (and you have no crimes) then you might be eligible for the green card. If you entered across the border, illegally, then the road is much steeper for you. You will need what is called a “waiver” and you likely WILL NOT be able to get your green card without a at some point in time, leaving the United States and being admitted legally.

As seen it is not that simple a process. If you have any further questions call or text Attorney Eduardo Ayala at 305-570-2208 for a consultation.

[1] In some of the areas the federal government and states overlap, but if a state regulates an area that is the realm of the feds, the state regulations cannot contradict the federal law.

[2] I put emphasis on “charges” because even if in a state criminal court you were acquitted, you might still be on the hook with immigration. Immigration has its own system of evaluating what crimes make someone eligible for immigration benefits. A system that is much tougher than the state system.

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