Can You Marry an Illegal Immigrant? All You Need To Know

  • U.S. citizens can legally marry an illegal immigrant, with no federal marriage restrictions based on immigration status.
  • An undocumented spouse can seek legal status through marriage, but the process varies greatly depending on their entry into the U.S.
  • The marriage process involves legal documentation, proving the relationship’s authenticity, and often navigating complex immigration pathways.
  • Couples should consider legal implications, financial responsibilities, cultural differences, and the genuine nature of their relationship before marrying.
  • It’s crucial to seek legal advice early to navigate the process effectively, considering the potential for significant legal and emotional challenges.

In the complex landscape of love and relationships, questions like “Can I marry an illegal immigrant?” often emerge, blurring the lines between the heart’s desires and the rigid frameworks of law. Marrying someone who lacks legal status in your country introduces a delicate blend of emotions and legal challenges. This article delves into the intricate details of whether you can marry an illegal immigrant, covering the possibilities, processes, and implications of such a union to ensure you are fully informed on this nuanced topic.

Can We Get Married?

The question of whether you can marry an illegal immigrant is one that crosses the minds of many in love across borders. The answer is unequivocally yes: U.S. citizens can legally marry undocumented immigrants. The process of getting married to an illegal immigrant does not differ substantially from marrying someone with legal status in the United States. There are no federal laws or regulations that impose restrictions on marriage based on immigration status. This means that the right to marry is accessible to all, regardless of one’s standing with immigration authorities.

This legal stance is rooted in the fundamental right to marry recognized by the U.S. Constitution, which upholds marriage as a basic human right. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that marriage is one of the most fundamental rights that individuals enjoy, which cannot be infringed upon by the government without a very strong reason. Therefore, the citizenship or immigration status of a person does not limit their right to marry a U.S. citizen.

However, while the act of marriage itself is straightforward, the implications for the undocumented immigrant’s legal status in the U.S. can be complex and require careful navigation of immigration laws post-marriage. It’s essential for couples considering this step to be informed about the process that follows and to seek legal advice to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and to make the most informed decisions about their future together.

This clarification allows many couples in love to proceed with their plans to marry, reassuring them that their union can be legally recognized in the United States, setting the foundation for a shared life, regardless of the challenges that may arise from immigration issues.

Can My Undocumented Spouse Get Legal Status Through Marriage?

One of the most pressing questions for U.S. citizens who marry an undocumented immigrant is whether their spouse can obtain legal status in the United States. The short answer is yes, but the path to achieving this varies significantly based on the undocumented spouse’s entry into the U.S. Central to this process is the concept of a “green card,” which grants legal residency status to its holder. Obtaining a green card is a crucial step for undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S. legally, and marriage to a U.S. citizen is a common pathway to achieve this.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plays a pivotal role in this process. It is the agency responsible for handling green card applications, assessing each case’s validity, and ensuring that all legal criteria are met. Now, let’s delve into the two primary scenarios based on the undocumented spouse’s mode of entry into the United States.

Scenario 1: Spouse Entered the U.S. Legally (With a Visa)

For undocumented spouses who initially entered the U.S. with a valid visa but overstayed, the path to obtaining a green card through marriage is relatively straightforward. In this scenario, the couple can file an Adjustment of Status application with the USCIS. This process allows the undocumented spouse to transition to legal residency without needing to leave the United States. Essential documentation includes proof of the immigrant’s legal entry, marriage certification, and the U.S. citizen spouse’s financial ability to support the immigrant. While this path involves bureaucracy and waiting periods, the legal entry foundation simplifies the process significantly.

Scenario 2: Spouse Entered the U.S. Illegally (Without Proper Documentation)

When an undocumented immigrant has entered the U.S. without proper documentation, the path to legal residency becomes more complex and challenging. In such cases, the undocumented spouse may be subject to bars on reentry if they leave the U.S. To address these issues, they may need to apply for a Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver. This waiver seeks forgiveness for the unlawful presence in the U.S. and, if approved, allows the immigrant to proceed with the green card application process. However, obtaining this waiver and ultimately a green card often requires the undocumented spouse to leave the U.S. for a visa interview in their home country. This process is fraught with risks, including potential bars from returning to the U.S. if the application is denied. Consequently, this route demands thorough preparation and often legal assistance to navigate successfully.


The USCIS’s role in both scenarios is to evaluate the applications for authenticity, ensure that the marriage is bona fide and not solely for obtaining legal status, and to process the green card applications. It is crucial for couples to provide comprehensive and accurate documentation to support their case and to follow all procedural requirements closely.


Process of Marrying an Illegal Immigrant

Marrying someone without legal status in the United States is a journey of love intertwined with legal intricacies. To navigate this path effectively, understanding the step-by-step process is crucial. Here’s an actionable guide to ensure clarity and readiness for what lies ahead:


  1. Legal Consultation: Before any steps are taken, consulting with an immigration attorney is highly recommended. An attorney can provide personalized advice based on your unique situation, helping to identify potential challenges and strategies for addressing them.
  2. Marriage License Application: The first legal step towards marriage is applying for a marriage license. This process varies by state but generally requires both parties to provide identification. For an undocumented immigrant, this may include a passport or other government-issued ID from their country of origin.
  3. The Marriage Ceremony: After obtaining a marriage license, the next step is the marriage ceremony. The ceremony can be religious or civil, but it must be conducted by a person authorized to solemnize marriages in the state where it occurs. The marriage must be entered into willingly and with the intention of establishing a life together.
  4. Certification of Marriage: Following the ceremony, the marriage needs to be certified and registered with the state. This often involves returning the signed marriage license to the county clerk’s office, where you will receive an official marriage certificate.
  5. Adjustment of Status Application (Form I-485): If the goal is to seek legal status for the undocumented spouse, the next step involves filing an Adjustment of Status application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is the process by which an individual can transition to a green card holder, or lawful permanent resident, without leaving the United States.
  6. Affidavit of Support (Form I-864): The U.S. citizen spouse must provide evidence of sufficient income or assets to support the immigrant spouse at a level above the U.S. poverty line. This is to ensure the immigrant will not become a public charge.
  7. Attend Biometrics Appointment: The undocumented spouse will be required to attend a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting, photography, and a background check.
  8. Interview: Both spouses will likely be required to attend an interview with a USCIS officer. This step is designed to verify the legitimacy of the marriage and the eligibility for a green card.
  9. Approval and Green Card Issuance: If the application is approved, the undocumented spouse will receive a green card, signifying lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

This process is general and can vary depending on individual circumstances, especially concerning the undocumented immigrant’s entry into the U.S. and their current status. Throughout this journey, maintaining transparent communication with legal representatives and ensuring all documentation is accurately and promptly submitted can significantly impact the outcome. Patience and diligence are key, as the process can be lengthy and detailed, but it’s a pathway towards building a shared life with legal recognition and protections in the United States.

Important Considerations Before Marrying

Marrying someone who does not have legal status in your country brings with it a unique set of considerations. These are not just legal technicalities but foundational aspects that could impact your lives significantly. Here’s a rundown of essential considerations every couple should ponder:


  • Genuine Relationship Verification: At the heart of marrying an illegal immigrant is the absolute necessity for the relationship to be genuine. U.S. immigration authorities thoroughly scrutinize marriages involving an undocumented partner to ensure the union is not solely for the purpose of gaining legal status. This means you should be prepared to provide extensive evidence of your relationship or proof that you are dating an illegal immigrant, including photos together, joint financial statements, and testimonies from friends and family that attest to your genuine connection.
  • Legal Implications and Status Adjustment: Understanding the legal landscape is crucial. The process of adjusting an undocumented spouse’s status to that of a legal resident can be intricate and lengthy. It’s essential to familiarize yourselves with the process, possible timelines, and expected obstacles. This includes knowing the difference between adjustment of status and consular processing, and the implications of each for your situation.
  • Financial Considerations: The U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse must be able to prove they can support the undocumented spouse above a certain income threshold. This is part of the Affidavit of Support, which is a necessary step in the process for adjusting status. The government wants to ensure that the immigrant will not become a public charge.
  • Potential Risks and Legal Challenges: There are risks involved, especially if the undocumented spouse has a complicated immigration history, such as previous deportations, visa overstays, or unauthorized entry. These factors can complicate the adjustment of status process and, in some cases, may lead to periods of separation or the need for a waiver application.
  • Cultural and Emotional Considerations: Beyond the legal aspects, marrying someone from another country can introduce cultural differences that both partners will need to navigate. Additionally, the stress of legal uncertainty can take a toll on both partners emotionally. It’s important to discuss these aspects and consider seeking support from counselors or community groups who understand what you’re going through.
  • Planning for the Future: Consider the long-term implications of your decision, especially if you plan to have children. The legal status of your spouse can affect your family’s ability to travel internationally, qualify for certain government benefits, and even impact your children’s citizenship status.
  • Avoiding Marriage Fraud: It cannot be overstated that the marriage must be entered into for the right reasons. Marriage fraud is a serious crime that can result in penalties for both parties. Ensure that your decision to marry is based on your relationship and not solely for immigration benefits.


Taking these considerations into account before proceeding with marriage is crucial. It ensures that you are not only making an informed decision but also preparing yourselves for the journey ahead. Given the complexities involved, consulting with an immigration attorney can provide personalized guidance and help you navigate the process more smoothly.


Pros and Cons of Marrying an Illegal Immigrant

Marrying someone without legal status in your country is a decision that comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. It’s important to weigh these carefully to make an informed choice about your future together. Here’s a look at some of the key pros and cons:



  • Pathway to Legal Status: One of the most significant benefits is providing your spouse a potential pathway to legal residency and eventually citizenship. This process, while complex, can ultimately lead to stability and peace of mind for your family.
  • Emotional and Psychological Support: Being in a committed relationship provides emotional and psychological support to someone who may otherwise feel vulnerable due to their immigration status. Your support can make a significant difference in their life, offering a sense of security and belonging.
  • Cultural Enrichment: Marrying someone from a different background can enrich your life with new cultural experiences, languages, and perspectives. It’s an opportunity to grow and learn together, embracing the diversity that each partner brings to the relationship.
  • Strengthened Commitment: Facing the challenges associated with marrying an illegal immigrant can strengthen your relationship. Overcoming these obstacles together can forge a deeper bond and commitment to each other.


  • Legal and Financial Challenges: The process of adjusting an undocumented immigrant’s status is not only complex but can also be costly. Legal fees, application fees, and the potential need for travel or long-distance relationship periods during the process can be financially and emotionally taxing.
  • Uncertainty and Stress: The uncertainty surrounding legal proceedings, potential denial of applications, or the risk of deportation can be a constant source of stress for both partners. This uncertainty can strain even the strongest of relationships.
  • Social Stigma: Unfortunately, there can be a social stigma attached to marrying an illegal immigrant, leading to misunderstanding or judgment from others. Couples may face skepticism about the authenticity of their relationship, impacting their social and familial connections.
  • Complex Legal Process: Navigating the immigration system can be daunting, requiring a significant amount of time, patience, and often, the assistance of a knowledgeable immigration attorney. The process can be more complicated if the undocumented spouse has any prior immigration violations or legal issues.
  • Potential for Separation: Depending on the specific circumstances of the undocumented spouse’s case, there may be a requirement for them to return to their home country as part of the legal process. This could lead to periods of separation that are challenging for any couple.

Consequences of a Fraudulent Marriage

Marrying solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits is considered marriage fraud, a serious violation of U.S. immigration laws. The consequences of entering into a fraudulent marriage can be severe for both the immigrant and the U.S. citizen or permanent resident involved. Below are some scenarios and general information about the repercussions of such actions, highlighting the importance of ensuring that any marriage to an undocumented immigrant is based on genuine relationship and mutual commitment.


  • Legal Repercussions for Both Parties: Individuals found guilty of marriage fraud can face significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment. For the immigrant involved, it can result in deportation and a permanent ban from entering the United States. U.S. citizens or residents can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
  • Denial of Immigration Benefits: If the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines that a marriage was entered into fraudulently, the immigrant spouse will be denied a green card and other immigration benefits. This denial can also extend to future applications, even in cases of subsequent marriages that are genuine.
  • Investigations and Interviews: Couples suspected of marriage fraud may be subjected to rigorous investigations and interviews. These can include separate interviews where both partners are asked detailed and intimate questions about their relationship and life together. Discrepancies in responses can lead to further investigation and potential legal action.
  • Case Scenario: In one notable case, a large-scale marriage fraud operation was uncovered where individuals paid significant sums to arrange marriages with U.S. citizens to obtain legal status. The operation led to multiple arrests and deportations, highlighting the lengths to which individuals and organizations might go to circumvent immigration laws, and the serious consequences when they are caught.
  • Impact on Future Applications: A finding of marriage fraud can negatively impact the credibility of both the immigrant and the U.S. citizen in any future dealings with immigration authorities. It can make obtaining visas, future green cards, or citizenship significantly more challenging, if not impossible.
  • Public Record and Social Stigma: Being involved in a marriage fraud case can become a matter of public record, leading to social stigma and potential impact on one’s personal and professional 

Helpful Resources

When considering marrying an illegal immigrant, it’s essential to access accurate information and professional support. Here’s a list of resources that can provide guidance, legal advice, and support through the process:

  1. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The official website is the primary source for immigration forms, policies, and guidance on the legal process of marrying an undocumented immigrant and adjusting their status.
  2. American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): AILA’s website offers a directory of immigration lawyers who specialize in family-based immigration. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can help navigate the complexities of immigration law.
  3. Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC): The ILRC provides training, educational materials, and advocacy to advance the rights of undocumented immigrants. They offer resources for both immigrants and legal professionals.
  4. National Immigration Law Center (NILC): NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants. Their resources cover a wide range of topics, including rights, public benefits, and immigration law updates.
  5. Boundless Immigration: Offering tools and information for navigating the immigration process, Boundless simplifies the paperwork and helps prepare you for immigration interviews.

When to Seek Legal Advice

Seek legal advice early in the process of marrying an illegal immigrant, ideally before taking any formal steps. Key moments to consult an immigration attorney include:

  • Before filing any applications with USCIS to understand the best path forward and ensure eligibility.
  • If the undocumented spouse has any past immigration violations or legal issues, as these can significantly complicate the process.
  • When navigating complex immigration laws and procedures, an expert can help avoid costly mistakes and delays.
  • If you encounter any problems during the application process, such as requests for additional evidence or notices of intent to deny.

Timely legal consultation can provide clarity, prevent issues, and offer peace of mind throughout the journey.


Marrying an illegal immigrant encompasses a blend of love, legal challenges, and administrative processes. While it offers a pathway to residency and a life together, it demands thorough understanding, preparation, and often, professional guidance. Navigating this journey with genuine intentions and informed steps can lead to a fulfilling shared future. Remember, every situation is unique, so seeking personalized legal advice early can make a significant difference in the outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an illegal immigrant marry a U.S. citizen?

Yes, an illegal immigrant can marry a U.S. citizen. U.S. law does not prevent marriages on the basis of immigration status.

Does marrying a U.S. citizen grant automatic citizenship to an illegal immigrant?

Marrying a U.S. citizen does not grant automatic citizenship. The immigrant must apply for a green card and meet all eligibility requirements.

Can illegal immigrants use marriage to adjust their immigration status?

Illegal immigrants can use marriage to adjust their status, but the process varies based on their entry to the U.S. and other factors.

What are the risks of marrying an illegal immigrant for immigration purposes?

Marrying for immigration purposes risks accusations of marriage fraud, leading to severe penalties, including deportation and criminal charges.


  1. Marriage Fraud — 8 U.S.C. 1325(c) And 18 U.S.C. 1546

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