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Going to the chapel to get married doesn't guarantee legal status

Perhaps you are among many others in California who mistakenly believed that by marrying a U.S. citizen, you'd automatically become one yourself. By the time you learned that information was not factual, you may have already found yourself in a precarious situation. Do you remain undocumented and hope for the best? It's been duly noted that not only is this illegal, it's typically a very bad idea for many other reasons as well.

However, those who say mixed status families should simply do what needs done to adjust the legal status of the undocumented spouse may not realize it's often easier said than done. U.S. immigration law is quite complex, for one thing. Unless you have a background in law, it's usually difficult to understand. There may also be a language barrier involved. Becoming a citizen is a process, one that is often lengthy and stressful. Thus, you may be tempted (as others have been) to live an undocumented lifestyle instead.

Facts about marriage, immigration and legal status

In order to make informed decisions, you may want to learn as much as possible about U.S. immigration law as it pertains to marrying an undocumented immigrant. Below, is a short list of facts that may provide clarification on some of the issues that concern you most:

  • If you are a non-citizen spouse of a U.S. citizen, you are likely already aware that you are at risk for deportation at any time. There's no shortage of stories about people getting pulled over in traffic stops or called into their bosses' offices at work, and the next thing they know they're being led away to detention centers to await removal hearings.
  • Married or unmarried, if you want to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, there's a process, there are fees and there are laws that you must meet.
  • Cost and time cause many people in your situation to procrastinate when it comes to filing legitimate applications for citizenship. In fact, some remain in an undocumented status for decades.
  • Your documented spouse may sponsor you for a green card application, providing you entered the country legally. If not, your spouse may still sponsor you but you'll have to return to your country of origin and begin the process from the start. 
  • If you live in the United States for more than a year without legitimate legal status, and you leave the country for any reason, the government automatically prohibits you from re-entry for 10 full years. 
  • If your spouse can prove that a separation of any amount of time would place undue hardship upon him or her and the rest of your family, you may qualify for a hardship waiver. 

Although you may feel overwhelmed and worried at times, wondering what to do to rectify your situation of living as an undocumented spouse of a U.S. citizen, there are generally several options available. It may help to talk to other immigrants who have successfully adjusted their statuses. Many California immigrants also choose to reach out for guidance from experienced immigration advocates.

Hopefully, everything will work out, and in addition to your wedding ceremony, you will one day enjoy celebrating your status as a naturalized citizen. In the meantime, an immigration law attorney can try to help you overcome any obstacles that arise.

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