Legal Rights and Protections for Undocumented Immigrants Seeking Marriage to U.S. Citizens


Undocumented immigrants in the United States encounter various challenges, particularly when they wish to marry U.S. citizens. However, they have certain legal rights and protections to aid them in this process. Grasping these rights is essential for navigating the complexities of immigration law and securing a stable future together.

Right to Marry: Undocumented immigrants have the legal right to marry U.S. citizens. Individual states issue marriage licenses, and most do not require proof of legal immigration status. This means that undocumented immigrants can marry without fear of being denied a permit based on their status.

Adjustment of Status: Once married to a U.S. citizen, undocumented immigrants may apply for adjustment of status to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders). This process involves submitting Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The undocumented spouse must demonstrate that the marriage is bona fide (genuine) and not entered into for immigration purposes.

Waivers for Unlawful Presence: Many undocumented immigrants accrue unlawful presence in the U.S., which can trigger bars to reentry if they leave the country. However, waivers like the I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver allow eligible applicants to remain in the U.S. In contrast, their waiver is processed, reducing the risk of family separation.

Protection from Deportation: Undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens may have some protection from deportation. While marriage does not provide immunity, it can be a significant factor in obtaining relief from removal. For instance, if an undocumented spouse meets specific criteria, they can pursue cancellation of removal, including proving that their deportation would cause extreme hardship to their U.S. citizen spouse or children.

Work Authorization: Upon filing for adjustment of status, the undocumented spouse may apply for work authorization (Form I-765). If granted, this allows them to work legally in the U.S. while their green card application is pending, providing financial stability and reducing the stress associated with undocumented employment.

Protection Under VAWA: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offers safeguards for undocumented immigrants wedded to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who endure domestic abuse. Through VAWA, they can independently petition for legal status, ensuring their safety and enabling access to legal residency without their abuser’s awareness.

Navigating the immigration system as an undocumented immigrant seeking marriage to a U.S. citizen can be daunting. However, understanding the legal rights and protections available is crucial. From the right to marry and adjust status to waivers for unlawful presence and protections under VAWA, these mechanisms can help undocumented immigrants build a secure and stable life with their U.S. citizen spouses. Seeking legal advice and staying informed about immigration policies are essential steps in this journey.