Citizens: Think Twice Before You Become a Joint Sponsor on Form I-864

By David North and Kathleen Sharkey on March 25, 2019

The advice in the headline may be highly specialized, even in the immigration field, but ignoring it is creating what the military calls "collateral damage" in an alien-citizen marriage that has collapsed. The names have been changed, but this is a real story about a real marriage.

The three parties involved are:

  • "Al", a 40ish citizen who is neither lucky in love nor in the labor market; he told us he makes $14,000 a year in what must be a part-time job; he married a college student from China; we only know his side of the story.
  • " Babette", a 20ish alien, now both a college grad and a mother, who is charging him with abuse in a divorce case, and who now has a conditional green card as a result of the marriage, as well as a two-year-old toddler.
  • "Charlie", a 50ish citizen and a friend of Al with a higher income has signed the I-864 form, as a joint sponsor of Babette. He's the one facing the collateral damage.

What does that Homeland Security form do? To quote the instructions "If the immigrant sponsored in this affidavit does receive one of the ... means-tested public benefits, the agency may request that you pay the cost of those benefits. That agency can sue you if the cost of the benefits provided is not repaid."

The form must be signed, or the alien does not get a green card. If DHS finds that the citizen spouse does not have enough income to sign the document, it tells the citizen to find a better-off co-sponsor, which is Charlie's role in this case. (Charlie, Al tells us, has not quite figured out the potential seriousness of the situation.)

The whole thing is designed to prevent the government from paying welfare costs to newly arrived immigrants.

Al is worried about what might happen financially to himself and to his friend Charlie. Al, who is fighting the alimony claim of his ex, but not child support, is unlikely to provide much money to his ex, and this may cause her to seek help from either TANF (the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children) program or from food stamps.

She, on the other hand, is currently working, which may limit her usage of these programs. Bankruptcy cannot be used as a shield by the sponsors. We do not know how often agencies actually use this law to seek to collect funds from the joint sponsors, but both Al and Charlie have good reasons to be concerned.

As noted earlier, we do not know the rights and wrongs of this case, but we do know that the two citizen men are facing an uncertain financial future, and the alien lady involved seems to be on her way to a green card. The child, of course, is a native-born U.S. citizen.

And, as it often turns out, Babette has an indirectly government-funded lawyer, and Al, the citizen, does not. In many of these cases, perhaps in this one as well, the alien's lawyer is funded through the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women.

While we often are told about problems coming from alien-citizen marriages, some of which are fraudulent, this is the first time we have heard about such a marriage having a negative impact on an individual outside the failed marriage, in this case, Charlie.

How will this turn out for the three of them?

It is not hard to predict. Al's hands are pretty much tied by the Violence Against Women Act, and by the government's refusal to even listen to the citizen's side in these cases.

It is just one more example of another narrow, but severe, problem within our immigration system. For the numbers involved in these failing marriage cases, which have fortunately been falling in recent years, see here.