By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – An immigration lawyer here has warned against ‘buying one’s immigration status’ through sham marriage. Cristina Godinez, Esq., in an interview with Women’s World digital talk show on June 24, 2020, said to “not even think about it because the act could have harsh consequences.”
Godinez of the Migrant Center of New York said that paying a US citizen or legal permanent resident to get married is an act of circumventing immigration laws and exposes oneself to criminal liability.
Arranged marriages of this kind usually take place between an immigrant with an overstayed visa and a US national or green card holder who accepts payment for the purpose of spousal petition for an off-status immigrant.
“The petitioner could face criminal liability and the spouse could be deported. I tell my clients to don’t even think about it. In my intake, I find out if theirs is really a genuine marriage,” Godinez said.
Godinez, a legal practitioner at Sycip Salazar in the Philippines before being admitted to the New York Bar, added that the level of scrutiny by Immigration officers is high. “They ask questions that seem harmless but will find out if the relationship is genuine or not.”
A sham marriage is a marriage that is entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws, such as the case of an interested person with an overstayed visa and wants to get a legal status in the US through marriage and a US national who gains financially by receiving payment from the interested person.
The US Immigration system considers a sham marriage a felony and is punishable by 5 year imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. The spouse may face deportation proceedings.
“In fairness to the immigration system, it has facilitated marriage based on love and family reunification. So this must not be abused,” she said.
Majority of women immigrants from the Philippines come to the US through fiancé and spousal visas, which do not have quotas.
In unfortunate cases when the marriage becomes abusive, the US immigration law is on the side of the vulnerable, said Godinez. Citing a case of an abused spouse coming from the Philippines whose husband had “changed and became intimidating and abusive,” the wife had to run away from their home and seek shelter from a government facility.
“Here, community support becomes a critical factor in responding to domestic violence. She was able to write her narrative and was able to do self-petition under the VAWA,” said Godinez.
The Violence against Women and Children Act covers not only for women and children but also for battered male, gay, or lesbian spouses. It provides immigration relief and support to abused spouses.
Godinez was the legal expert guest of Women’s World who ran a two-part series of its 6th episode on women and immigration in the time of covid19. The one-month old zoom-driven Conversation platform is hosted by Merly Barlaan, Arceli Hernando, and Marivir Montebon. It is sponsored by the Women’s Federation for World Peace and OSM! Online Magazine www.justcliqit.com. #