What Happens If You’re a Citizen Married to an Illegal Immigrant

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • A U.S. customs form, known as form 6059B, is required for foreigners entering the U.S. with goods.
  • The form informs the U.S. government about the items being brought into the country.
  • It must be completed by foreign visitors unless they are U.S. or Canadian citizens, use APC kiosks, or hold certain visas.
  • The form has a front and back side and requires accurate completion of personal information, travel details, and declaration of goods.

Are you a U.S. citizen married to an illegal immigrant? You’re not alone. There are about 1.2 million undocumented immigrants married to citizens of the U.S., and they all hope they will have the chance to obtain a green card. That being said, would it be possible for you to get your illegal immigrant spouse a green card?

Can You Sponsor Your Undocumented Spouse’s Green Card?

An undocumented immigrant can be sponsored for a free card by their U.S. citizen spouse. But although it’s possible, it’s not an easy process. The application often tends to be very long and pricey. Because the entire thing could be a little dangerous from some points of view, many couples end up not undergoing it in the first place. As a result, the illegal immigrant ends up not becoming documented, which means deportation is a scenario that could happen at any time.

You should be aware that if you want to help your spouse get a green card, then you cannot deal with this process by yourself. You will need an immigration lawyer and you must pay a lot of money to hire one. For this reason, many families end up not trying to legalize the illegal spouse. They would have to pay a lot in legal fees, and if they will deal with “notarios”, it may be even pricier. These are scammers who tend to offer bad legal advice, but take a lot of money from their clients.

So, if you don’t go through the process because you don’t have enough money, then you risk not being able to legalize your undocumented spouse. But even if you go through the process, it’s not 100% guaranteed that you will be able to succeed in obtaining legal documentation for your significant other. It all depends on a few factors. You can sponsor the undocumented immigrant, but if he/she didn’t enter the U.S. legally, then he/she must go back to the home country in order to get a screening at a U.S. consulate.

Eligibility for a Green Card Based on Marriage

You should also be aware that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) may affect the spouse’s eligibility for a green card based on marriage. However, in some situations, it may make a difference in some particular situations. For instance, the difference could be made when the spouse that sponsors the illegal immigrant is a U.S. green card holder, or the DACA recipient spouse got into the U.S. illegally.

It’s important to know that “unlawful presence” doesn’t apply to a person unless they are at least 18 years of age. So, if your spouse managed to apply for DACA before they turned 18 years old, or within 180 days of turning 18 years old, the reentry bar will usually not be applicable if he/she has to apply from outside the U.S.

Moreover, it was possible for many DACA recipients to go outside the United States and use a travel document to return legally. The document is known as “Advance Parole”. Therefore, if you have a spouse who happens to be a DACA recipient and entered the U.S. with this travel document, then applying for a marriage-based green card should be possible from another country.

In other situations, though, DACA shouldn’t have an effect on your undocumented spouse’s qualification for a green card based on marriage.

Scenarios

Helping your illegal immigrant spouse obtain a green card has different rates of success depending on various scenarios. So, here’s what you need to know in this regard:

If Your Spouse Entered the U.S. Legally

Your spouse may be an illegal immigrant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she entered the U.S. illegally. If they got into the U.S. and got inspected, it means that a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent inspected them. So, they should have it easy as long as they had a valid visa and entered under the Visa Waiver Program.

Therefore, when applying for a green card based on marriage, the process should be just like if your spouse had legal status. There’s little to no disadvantage when applying for the green card.

However, you should know that leaving the U.S. until receiving the green card could affect the spouse’s ability to obtain a green card. If the illegal immigrant leaves the United States before this, he/she may not be able to return for three or ten years. This is all influenced by the amount of time during which your spouse has been in the U.S. illegally.

If Your Spouse Entered the U.S. Illegally

The spouse may have entered the U.S. by illegal means, but that doesn’t mean he/she cannot apply for a green card. It’s possible, but the spouse has to leave the U.S. to do it.

If your significant other entered the States but was in the country for no more than 180 days, then going home would allow them to apply for a green card from a U.S. consulate. This is the same as them living abroad and wanting to apply for a green card based on marriage.

But if the spouse was in the U.S. for over 180 days, then he/she will be subjected to a bar from entering the country for three or ten years. If this happens, your spouse would have to apply for a provisional waiver to be able to return to the States sooner.

How to Sponsor Your Undocumented Spouse

As a U.S. citizen spouse, you have to submit Form I-130 to USCIS, mentioning that your spouse will have to apply for a green card from their home country. When the I-130 gets approved, a notification will be sent from the National Visa Center. This will inform you that you have to submit the immigrant visa application, as well as pay the fee for the immigrant visa. If you want to submit the provisional waiver application, then you have to first get a receipt that shows you submitted the immigrant visa application.

If the waiver gets approved, then the interview at the U.S. consulate for your spouse will be scheduled. He/she would have to go home to make it to the interview.

The Risk of Not Getting a Green Card

Bear in mind that there is also the risk of not getting a green card.

For example, if your spouse came to the United States under a tourist visa in order to meet someone and get married, it’s not a good situation and is considered fraud. In this case, it can affect your spouse’s eligibility for the green card, as well as future U.S. visas he/she may apply for.

Moreover, consular processing is also risky. Your illegal immigrant spouse may have to go abroad for consular processing, and if he/she has been in the U.S. illegally for more than 180 days, then he/she may get penalized for staying in the States illegally. This includes being barred from entering the country for three or ten years and thus not getting the green card for a long time.

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Conclusion

If you’re a citizen married to an illegal immigrant, you probably want to help them obtain a green card, and rightfully so. Hopefully, our guide clarified some things about this possibility and the risks.

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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.

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