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USA: Marrying for Love and Country

Wedding ring heartWhether for love or for visa, deciding whether to marry is never an easy thing. In the United States, where more than 12 million people live as “undocumented” immigrants, falling in love and getting married to an American is one way legal status can be resolved.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 1,052,415 people obtained “legal status” in the United States in 2007. Of these, 274,358 people obtained it by marrying U.S. citizens.

On the website of anti-immigration advocacy group Center for Immigration Studies, David Seminara questions how many of these thousands of marriages were really for love, and highlights examples of mail-order brides, arranged marriages, and money exchanging hands.

Plenty of immigrant bloggers discuss their own thoughts on marriage and documents in the United States.

Marriage of inconvenience

El Random Hero in California writes that as an undocumented migrant, friends and family have suggested marriage to him as an option, but that he finds the idea too far-fetched:

“It's one of the hardest things to do for me personally really. Being of illegal status in this country I feel that this is a burden I should carry alone. Of course countless friends have joked and suggested that I get married to an American girl and get my papers. 9-11 changed the world forever and its affects are still being felt in waves. Getting married is no longer a viable option because immigration has seriously started preventing and prosecuting individuals involved with green card marriages. Then there are the moral ramifications of spitting on the sacred act that is marriage so I'm left at a cross road.”

In another blog, Damn Mexicans, the blogger discusses a newspaper article about Julia and Gustavo, two siblings who came to the United States at age 11 and 18. Gustavo married an American citizen, but Julia remains undocumented as she works her way through college.

“…too many people think it's as easy as marrying an American citizen. Julia is 18 and has never had a boyfriend. Think back and try to remember who you were dating at the age of 18. Think if you married that person. shudders. For most of us, it's a scary thought. 18 is too young to get married and Gustavo being married at the age of 21 was too young as well but forced into it by his situation.”

“Till death do us part”

According to the organization, Surviving Spouses Against Deportation, some people are threatened with deportation when their “legal” husband or wife dies.

“Because of a flaw in the law, legal spouses of American citizens face automatic denial and threat of deportation when their spouses die during lengthy bureaucratic green card processing. There are over one hundred eighty of these cases across the country affecting women, mothers and children.”

Blogger My life as an Alien discusses one case.

“Dahianna Heard, the widow of Jeffrey Heard, killed in March 2006 when the Army soldier was shot in the head by insurgents while delivering equipment to U.S. troops in Iraq. Dahianna Heard, a citizen of Venezuela who lives in Florida, now could be deported even though she and her husband had applied for her residency permit and were awaiting completion of the paperwork. They also had a son who is a U.S. citizen but faces an uncertain future if his mother is deported.”

The blogger writes that she has gone through all the “hurdles” to gain citizenship but can understand how the spouses must feel.

“It is hard to move to a new country, it is a big adjustment. And after you make this new place a home, the old country is not home anymore. I can’t imagine losing my husband and then my home.”

Broken dreams, strong hearts

Amy is a U.S. citizen living in Chicago, Illinois while her husband Carlos, once an undocumented migrant, is now living in Monterrey, Mexico. Amy writes in their shared blog, Destinazione Paradiso that because Carlos migrated from Mexico to the United States “illegally” as a teenager, he faces legal problems that even a marriage can't fix.

“You see, contrary to popular belief (blog post on THAT coming soon), people brought into the US illegally can't simply fix their status by returning to their home countries and asking for a visa. Nor can they fix it automatically by marrying a US citizen. And while generally, crimes committed as a minor are viewed differently than those committed as an adult, in the immigration world, age doesn't matter: you can be held to the same penalties whether you entered illegally at age 8 or 58.
Carlos’ immigration story just happens to cross not one, but TWO grey areas of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996. It happens that while the law forgot to specifically address minors in certain areas of the Act, the US consulate in Mexico has recently decided to apply its own rules and treat minors identically to adults.”

In October 2008, Carlos was given the verdict that he could no longer legally enter the United States. His wife Amy wrote:

“Well, sadly, our year-long immigration adventure has experienced a violent and devastating collision with the reality of immigration law. After nearly 11 months, two humiliating Mexican jobs, thousands of dollars, 9 international flights, endless hopes and dreams, and tons of prayers, we are left empty-handed. As things stand right now, Carlos is banned from entering the US for life, and there is no opportunity for a waiver. This was always a possibility, sort of the worst-case scenario, but this is now our only scenario.”

Nevertheless, Amy writes that the fight continues.

Photo of wedding ring above is shared under Creative Commons license by Pictr30D on flickr.

4 comments

  • Wonderful post, Hoa! Thanks for sharing the plight of these immigrants with us…All too often, the law is unjust in these types of cases.

  • What an interesting post, thank you!
    By the way, I have heard that in France, the same happens with surviving spouses in some cases!

  • No one should be forced into Marriage just to stay in the country. I personally think people should be given easier access to stay in the USA.

  • Really great post. I am undocumented student myself and I know first hand the moral dilemma faced by undocumented immigrant. Last year, I considered marrying by girlfriend but in the end we decided not to go through with it. I’m not ready for marriage yet no matter how convenient it is.

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