Can You Be Deported if You are Married to an American Citizen?

Updated on January 5, 2024

At a Glance

  • Married individuals with a Green Card can face deportation under certain circumstances.
  • Meeting criteria for a Green Card through marriage is crucial, including lawful entry, a genuine marriage, passing a medical exam, and providing proof of income.
  • Deportation risks arise from committing certain crimes or offenses, such as aggravated felonies, controlled substance crimes, crimes of moral turpitude, and others.
  • Seeking advice from an immigration attorney is advisable in such cases.

Marrying a U.S. citizen provides a path to a green card, allowing you to legally work and live in the U.S. However, even if married to an American, you can still be deported. Let’s explore the circumstances that might lead to this.

Can Green Card Marriage Citizens be Deported?

Married to an American and have a green card? You can still be deported. In fact, 10% of those deported annually are lawful permanent residents. Deportation can arise from not meeting green card criteria or committing certain actions/crimes. Let’s delve deeper.

8 Grounds for Deportation Despite Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Even with a green card, committing “deportable offenses” can lead to deportation, including minor, nonviolent crimes. The USCIS lists many such offenses. Below are common ones. If concerned, consult an immigration attorney.

1. Failure to Meet Conditions

If you fail to meet the conditions of your conditional permanent residency, you won’t receive your permanent green card and will be deported.

You would be a conditional permanent resident if you were granted a temporary two-year green card after you married a U.S. citizen. If you received the two-year conditional permanent residency from your marriage, you could be deported if your marriage terminates before the two years are over or if it turns out your marriage was fraudulent.

Green Card Criteria for U.S. Marriage

Marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically grant you a green card. To qualify, you must fulfill these 4 criteria. Failure to do so could lead to deportation, as marriage alone isn’t an assurance. Here are the criteria:

  • Lawful Entry – To acquire a green card via marriage, you must have entered the U.S. legally. If you didn’t, you might need a 601A waiver. Consult an immigration attorney if unsure.
  • Authentic Marriage – Your marriage will be scrutinized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To secure a marriage-based citizenship, you must prove its authenticity. Expect detailed USCIS evaluations of your marital life.
  • Medical Examination – Every green card applicant needs to clear a medical exam. Familiarize yourself with the exam’s preparation.
  • Income Verification – To ensure immigrants don’t strain public resources, the USCIS requires proof of a sufficient income level. This is vital for the “affidavit of support” to demonstrate you won’t become a public charge.

It’s also important to note that your green card should be kept up-to-date, if you’d like to avoid complications down the line.

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2. Aggravated Felony

Aggravated felonies fall under federal law but can be prosecuted under state law. These crimes range from misdemeanors to felonies. If you’ve committed any of these crimes, it will be up to the immigration authorities to determine whether it constitutes a deportable offense.

Aggravated Felonies List

The following crimes are deemed aggravated felonies:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Serious violent crimes (e.g., rape, murder, kidnapping)
  • Child exploitation (e.g., child pornography, statutory rape)
  • National security violations (e.g., spying, treason, sabotage)
  • Legal violations (e.g., perjury with 1+ year sentence, obstruction of justice with 1+ year sentence)
  • Firearms and destructive device trafficking
  • Alien smuggling, human trafficking, prostitution
  • Financial crimes (e.g., money laundering >$10,000, fraud/tax evasion >$10,000)
  • Serious theft or violent crime with 1+ year sentence
  • Document crimes (e.g., commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery)
  • Trafficking in vehicles
  • Missing court on a 2+ year felony charge.

3. Controlled Substances

Controlled substances are for crimes involving drugs. If you are convicted of any drug crimes after being admitted to the U.S., it could lead to deportation. You could also be inadmissible to the U.S. in the future. Drug crimes include drug possession but do not include “a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana.” If you are a drug abuser or a drug addict, the Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that you are also deportable.

4. Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Moral turpitude refers to “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community”. This is quite vague, and it isn’t entirely clear what crimes could fall under this category. This is up to the U.S. courts.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude List

The following offenses have, however, been held to be crimes of moral turpitude in the past:

  • Violent crimes (e.g., rape, robbery, murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, voluntary manslaughter, some involuntary manslaughter cases)
  • Family offenses (e.g., incest, spousal abuse, child abuse)
  • Economic crimes (e.g., theft, fraud)
  • Specific offenses (e.g., mayhem, animal fighting)
  • Involvement in crime (e.g., conspiracy, accessory to a crime of moral turpitude).

5. Firearm Crimes

These crimes relate to guns. Crimes and offenses relating to firearms can be grounds for deportation. These crimes include violations for possessing, selling, or carrying firearms unlawfully.

6. Fraud

Any form of fraud could be a deportable offense. Most specifically, fraud relating to the marriage that granted you your conditional permanent residence. Having a fraudulent marriage or having your marriage annulled or terminated before being granted permanent residence could lead to deportation.

7. Inadmissible at the Border

Every time you leave the U.S., you will be inspected at the border before you will be able to return. If the border agent determines you are inadmissible, you won’t be allowed to re-enter the U.S. You will, for example, be inadmissible if you have been outside the U.S. borders for more than 180 days without advance parole.

8. Smuggling

This would be where you help someone enter the U.S. illegally, i.e., smuggling them in.

If You Marry an Illegal Immigrant, Can They Still Be Deported?

Even if you’re married to a U.S. citizen, deportation remains a possibility. Merely being married doesn’t automatically grant you immunity from deportation or guarantee an immigration status. To secure a green card, your U.S. citizen spouse must file a petition on your behalf. Alongside this, you need to apply for the green card, furnishing it with relevant forms and documents. If you’ve faced legal challenges like criminal convictions, immigration fraud, or unlawful presence in the U.S., you might also need to submit a waiver backed with supporting documents.

Can You Be Deported While Applying for a Green Card?

While navigating the path to obtaining a green card, you might wonder, “Can I be deported during this process?” The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Applying for a green card doesn’t shield you from the threat of deportation since it doesn’t grant immediate immigration status. Only upon approval does one attain the official status of a lawful permanent resident.

Can I Marry to Get Citizenship During Removal Proceedings?

Yes, you can marry while undergoing removal proceedings. Marrying a U.S. citizen during this time allows you to seek an adjustment to legal permanent resident status. This not only offers a potential path to changing your immigration status but also serves as a possible relief from deportation. In such cases, you can request a merits hearing in front of a judge. The process in immigration court is akin to the adjustment before USCIS, with the judge having the final say on your request’s approval or denial.

Can You Get Deported for Adultery?

No, you won’t be deported for adultery, but it could affect your citizenship application. While many are aware that criminal records can hinder U.S. citizenship, few realize that personal moral conduct, even outside of legal infractions, plays a pivotal role too. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) evaluates an applicant’s “good moral character” during a typical five-year span before their N-400 application.

Adultery stands out in this context. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an extramarital affair that threatens a marriage during this period could be grounds to question an applicant’s moral character. It’s essential to understand that long-term residency or fluency in English doesn’t guarantee citizenship. The process is as much about moral eligibility as it is about legal qualifications.

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Final Thoughts

So, can you be deported if you are married to an American citizen? Yes, you can. But you can only be deported in very specific circumstances. If you are concerned about possibly having committed a deportable offense or if you might not have met one of the 4 eligibility criteria we list above, speak to an immigration attorney.

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Green Card Marriages and Deportation FAQ

Below, you find some common questions around green card marriages and deportation as well as their answers.

What happens if you marry someone who is undocumented?

Marrying an undocumented individual does not automatically grant them legal status. However, they may be eligible to adjust their status based on their marriage, especially if they’re married to a U.S. citizen. Proper legal procedures must be followed.

What happens when a U.S. citizen marries an immigrant?

When a U.S. citizen marries an immigrant, the U.S. citizen can petition for the immigrant spouse to obtain a green card. This is the first step toward them potentially becoming a U.S. citizen.

Can you get in trouble for marrying an immigrant?

Marrying an immigrant is not illegal. However, entering into a fraudulent marriage to help someone obtain citizenship is a crime and can result in severe penalties.

How long does it take for an illegal immigrant to become a citizen after marriage?

An undocumented immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen can apply for a green card. If approved, they can apply for U.S. citizenship after three years of having their green card, provided they remain married to the U.S. citizen. Without marriage, the wait is typically five years.

Can a deported person come back legally by marrying a citizen?

Marrying a U.S. citizen does not guarantee re-entry for a deported person. However, the U.S. citizen can file a petition on their behalf. The deported individual might also need a waiver of inadmissibility depending on the reasons for deportation.

Do immigrants lose citizenship if you divorce them?

No, once an immigrant becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, they remain a citizen even if they get divorced. However, if the green card was obtained through marriage and the divorce happens before a certain period, it might affect their permanent resident status.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.