As a Miami immigration lawyer, I often receive questions from clients who entered the U.S. illegally as to whether they can “just marry” a U.S. citizen to obtain a green card. As you will see in these frequently asked questions, it’s not that simple. U.S. immigration law has created various penalties for people who both enter and stay in the U.S. without permission.

I’ve illegally crossed the U.S. border more than once. Can I just marry a U.S. citizen to get my green card?

First, I would recommend that if the scneario above applies to you, you should consult with a Miami immigration attorney about your hope to immigrate based on marriage to a U.S. citizen if you have entered the U.S. without inspection two or more times and

  •  your total amount of unlawful time in the U.S. totals one year or more; or
  •  you were removed (deported) from the U.S. and then came back illegally.

I would recommend that you consult with a Miami immigration lawyer, because you may be permanently “inadmissible” to the United States.

Why can’t I get a green card if I’m married to a U.S. citizen, even if I’m inadmissible based on the above?

Under current U.S. immigration law, it doesn’t matter that you are married to a U.S. citizen. Depending on your circumstances (which you should certainly discuss with a Miami immigration lawyer), you may have to wait ten years since you last left the U.S. and then hope the government will allow you to apply to come back.

I have illegally crossed the U.S. border only once. Can I obtain a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen?

If you have entered the U.S. without inspection only once, or your previous illegal entries and stays total less than one year, you may have more options.

First, your marriage to the U.S. citizen has to be legally valid. This is true whether you are in an opposite-sex or a same-sex marriage. As the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you are known as an “immediate relative.”

Unless you fall into a rare exception , you will not be allowed to apply for your green card at a USCIS office in the United States. But if you leave after living here illegally for more than six months, you risk having the consulate punish you by refusing to let you return to the U.S. for three or ten years.To avoid being punished by the time bars, you need to act carefully and quickly.

If you have any questions in regard to this, you may want to speak with a Miami immigration lawyer to discuss your options.

What are my options if I illegally crossed the border only once, and want to get a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen?

  •  See whether you fit into the exception and can apply to adjust your status to green card holder in the United States.
  • Leave the U.S. before you have been here unlawfully for six months and apply to an overseas U.S. consulate to return immediately with an immigrant visa. Your unlawful time is short enough that you should not have a problem in being granted the visa. The visa processing may mean many months of separation from your spouse while you wait overseas, but months of separation now might be better than three or ten years of separation later. Again, if this applies to you, you may want to speak with a Miami immigration lawyer.

Note: When the time comes to apply for your immigrant visa, the consulate will want to see proof of how long you stayed unlawfully in the United States. Collect and keep all evidence, such as your plane tickets, store receipts, medical records, credit card statements, and anything else relevant to show your dates of stay and departure.

  • If you have been in the U.S. unlawfully for more than six months (and therefore face a minimum three-year time bar on returning), apply for a waiver that will forgive your illegal stay. Under USCIS rules, you can apply for this waiver before you leave the United States. Unfortunately, only certain people can gain approval of such waivers. You will need to show that, if your visa were denied, it would cause extreme hardship to your U.S. spouse or parents (if they happen to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents).

If you would like more information on obtaining a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen after having illegally entered the United States, please contact Miami immigration lawyer Michael G. Murray, Esq. at (305) 895-2500 or visit our website

Coronavirus update: We are safely open for business! USCIS is still accepting new filings for all applications. Our office is offering virtual consultations for new clients so that you don't have to come to our office in person. Call us to schedule your virtual meeting today.
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