Financial Dangers Faced by Citizens in Marriage-Related Immigration Fraud

By David North on December 1, 2021

A citizen who unwisely marries an alien who only wants a green card faces serious financial burdens if the alien dumps the citizen, claims (correctly or falsely) abuse by the citizen, and “self-petitions” for green card status. I have known that for a long time but put the blame for the finances solely on the divorce courts and their alimony rulings.

It turns out that Uncle Sam plays a supporting role for the alien self-petitioner in an unattractive way that I had missed before. (The term “self-petitioner” is used by Homeland Security to identify an alien who is a would-be immediate relative, usually a spouse claiming “abuse” who, having broken up with the citizen, is still eligible to file as an immediate relative on the alien’s own behalf, even though no citizen will file for the alien, the usual procedure.)

DHS, apparently not wanting to run a specialized sort of divorce court, routinely rules that the alien (usually a woman) has in fact been abused by her citizen spouse, thus giving her a green card, often without telling the bamboozled spouse what the agency is doing. CIS published a long collection of accounts of these cases a couple of years ago.

The supporting role of our government regarding the self-petitioner’s finances was called to my attention recently by a citizen/victim who says he faces what he regards as a 10-year, $300,000 liability to support the alien, a Russian woman, and her two children by an earlier relationship. He may or may not be right about the length of time, or the total cost, but the ballpark estimate seems to be about right.

As a matter of fact, it is perfectly possible for the citizen to be forced to pay the alien, as long as they both shall live.

What my citizen informant did not say (and may not know) is that the arrangement that entangles him has all the wrong ramifications: The DHS rules actually would punish the self-petitioning alien should she be tempted to get a steady job or become a citizen. Once she did one or the other of those desirable things she would lose her financial support from the citizen ex-husband, unless that support had also been ordered by a divorce court.

Should the government cause the payment of money to aliens, keeping the latter from working legally or becoming citizens?

I don’t think so.

The I-134 and I-864 Forms. If the non-citizen potential spouse is outside the U.S. and needs a K-1 visa to come to the U.S. to marry the citizen, the American usually needs to file an I-134 form with the government to secure that visa for the alien. The form demands that the citizen agree to support the alien at 125 percent of the poverty level. If the alien would-be spouse is in the U.S., another form with about the same requirements, the I-864, is needed.

Both forms are designed to prevent the alien from becoming a public charge. If she does (it usually is a woman), the government can sue the citizen, making him support the alien to 125 percent of the poverty level. Or, if government action does not take place, the alien can sue the citizen in federal courts for support.

The citizen can escape from these requirements in two main ways: if the alien becomes a citizen or if the alien works long enough in the regular economy to have 40 quarters of Social Security coverage — this takes 10 years.

So the alien is discouraged from becoming a citizen or getting and holding a steady job for 10 years — if she does either of these things she loses the, in effect, alimony from the citizen. This does not necessarily discourage illegal, under-the-table, work, just legal work. If she is getting the payments because of a divorce court, unless the decree is a highly unusual one, she can go ahead and become a citizen or work the 40 quarters without worry.

A divorce court, BTW, could easily order a more generous payment than 125 percent of the poverty level. I assume that the larger of the two payment levels, if they differed, would prevail.

It is odd that federal law would discourage an alien from either becoming a citizen or working in the above-ground economy, but that is what we have here.