Kicked out for marriage fraud
Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,
My mother migrated with me from Jamaica when I was 10 years old. I am now 34. We lived in Florida the whole time. After 10 years of living there, my mother got married and she was able to obtain her residency then eventually citizenship. At that time, only my mother got everything straightened out. I was still left in limbo.
Being that I was in the country illegally, I had to do something about it. I got married to a long-time friend to get my life straightened out. It took some trying, but I made it to the interview process. Things didn't work out as planned and I ended up being sent to jail in Ft Lauderdale for marriage fraud, for a week.
With the circumstances at that time, I was given a choice. I could take it to court and plead my case and let the judge decide my fate, which would mean that if he decided that I shouldn't be in the country, that would be involuntary departure and that could mean that I wouldn't be granted another visa to leave. Or if I chose to go back home, it would be voluntary departure and I could re-apply for a visa to come back to the United States (US).
I was taken to the US not of my own will years ago, and I was made to return to a country that I knew nothing about. I don't regret coming back home to Jamaica. My question is how long do I need to wait before I can reapply for a visitor's visa to the US, and is this on some record that will haunt me in the future?
Your story is unfortunate, but one that we have heard before. People take young children to the US thinking they are acting in the children's best interest, and sometimes, it turns to the children's detriment. You did not indicate certain dates that would have aided in understanding your timeline a little better.
The reason your mother was the only person her husband was able to petition for her to change her status is probably that you were over age 18 when your mother and stepfather were married. At 18 years old, your stepfather would have been unable to transfer immigration benefits to you, leaving you to legally fend for yourself.
Your mistake would have been to enter into a marriage of convenience to obtain immigration benefits - if that is what you did. Clearly, the immigration officials who denied your adjustment of status application believed that your marriage was not real, and you ended up in immigration detention and charged with marriage fraud. It appears from your letter that you opted to leave without challenging your fraud charges.
On the records
This means that marriage fraud is forever on your records and any subsequent petition for residency will be denied unless you can negate the original marriage fraud allegations. This is so no matter who petitions for US residency for you in the future. The fallacy is that if a person takes voluntary departure, somehow, they will be allowed back into the States. The reality is that whatever makes you removable and/or inadmissible into the US will continue to make you inadmissible whether you are deported or are granted voluntary departure.
The likelihood of your being granted a visitor's visa is nil. Notwithstanding the fact that you entered the US at age 10 and remained without permission, the law is that once you turned 18 years old, unlawful presence will be held against you. The thought process is that once you turned 18 years of age, you should have left the US and that choosing to remain was your personal decision, i.e., that of an adult. If there was no issue of marriage fraud, you would face a mandatory bar of 10 years to return to the US. With the marriage fraud charge, you would be barred from receiving a non-immigrant visa.
With either a petition for permanent residency or an application for a temporary visa, you would need a waiver before you would ever be allowed back into the US and in a waiver, among other issues, you would have to overcome the marriage fraud charge.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal and personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida; and an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College's School of Criminal Justice. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.