Marriage Based Green Cards Common Questions & Mistakes

I’ve been an Immigration Lawyer for two decades, and I see some of the same mistakes over and over again. A lot of these mistakes stem from people just not really understanding the law…and why would they? Immigration law is considered one of the most complicated fields in law: the rules are constantly changing, and actions that you took years ago could affect your case without you even remembering that you did them. Below are the six most common mistakes in marriage based cases that I have come across in my many years as an Immigration Attorney.

Mistake # 1
You know the drill. You have it all figured out. Everyone has told you how to get a green card through marriage, and you looked it up online. So you and your spouse decide to go it alone without a lawyer. But when you get to the interview, the officer has all kinds of questions for you that you weren’t expecting, and things do not go well.

Mistake # 2
You think twice about the above error. You and your spouse then hire the first lawyer you find, even if he or she has limited experience in immigration. Perhaps it’s one of those practices that handles various types of cases from car accidents and criminal defense, to real estate and bankruptcy. But the attorney claims to handle a “little” immigration too…

Mistake # 3
You have previously been arrested or cited for a problem with the police, but it was all dismissed. Your criminal defense lawyer tells you not to worry about the immigration consequences, because the case was dismissed. You follow this advice, and skip a consultation with the best immigration lawyer you can find.  During your immigration proceedings you discover that this little arrest was sort of a big problem because Immigration calls it a “ground of inadmissibility”, and now has denied the green card through marriage.  They even send you to Immigration Court for a deportation (removal) hearing. All over a case that was previously dismissed, but maybe you admitted to the criminal act on the record, or some other nuance that now comes back to haunt you.

Mistake #4
You appear in Immigration Court, and try to explain to the judge and prosecutor that the green card through marriage should be approved. The judge tells you to locate a lawyer. She even gives you months to find that attorney. You think you have lots of time so you procrastinate.

Mistake #5
You find out that there may be a way to waive the above mentioned “ground of inadmissibility”, but instead of finding a specialist in immigration law and marriage cases and waivers, you feel strangely compelled to make mistake #2.

Mistake #6 (The grandaddy of them all)
You do not actually live with your spouse. You decide to go to the marriage interview and seek your green card anyway. After all, you know “plenty of folks” who have gotten away with marriage fraud.  But the immigration officer splits you and your spouse up and proceeds to conduct a “Stokes” interview in which he asks you each about 100 questions, then compares the answers. There are many differences in the responses given by you and your spouse. A finding of marriage fraud is issued and now you are banned for life from receiving virtually all immigration benefits. Remember the movie The Proposal? That could be you without the happy ending.

I see people make these mistakes all the time. Please think carefully about your application for green card through marriage.Talk to an expert. You may have only one chance to get it right.


Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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