Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032 (1984)

The perception that immigrants marry U.S. citizens to obtain immigration benefits is longstanding and has been popularized in movies, books, and magazines. In 1986, Congress responded to this perception by enacting restrictions to deter sham marriages. Under the Immigration and Marriage Fraud Amendments (IMFA), spousal sponsorship—a centerpiece of family-based immigration policy—became a twostep process for some applicants. Because Congress believed that sham marriages were unlikely to endure for two years, all persons who obtain permanent resident status based on a marriage that is less than two years old are deemed ‘‘conditional’’ permanent residents. At the end of two years, both spouses must petition the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to have the conditional status removed.

DHS then investigates the validity of the marriage. If it finds that the marriage is valid, it removes the conditional status and grants full permanent resident status to the applicant. If it finds that the marriage is fraudulent, legal status is terminated and the applicant is deportable. The petitioning process may compromise applicants’ privacy and personal dignity, since applicants must often present items to demonstrate the validity of their marriages, from wedding announcements to evidence of shared expenses. Commentators have also criticized the underlying concept of sponsorship, arguing that it is based on an antiquated patriarchal model of marriage.

When IMFA was enacted, Congress did not anticipate its impact on abused spouses. Domestic violence victims with conditional status may be deterred from reporting abuse for fear that their spouse will refuse to participate in the joint petition to DHS. Subsequent amendments to IMFA have created special procedures for battered spouses and children.

MARTHA F. DAVIS

References and Further Reading

  • Aleinikoff, Thomas Alexander, David Martin, and Hiroshi Motomura. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy, 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: West, 2003, 308–322.
  • Anderson, Michelle J., A License to Abuse: The Impact of Conditional Status on Female Immigrants, Yale Law Journal 102 (April 1993): 1401–1430.
  • Calvo, Janet, A Decade of Spouse-Based Immigration: Coverture’s Diminishment but not Its Demise, Northern Illinois University Law Review 24 (Spring 2004) 153–204.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Immigration and Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986, Pub. L. 99-639, 100 Stat. 3537

See also Due Process in Immigration; Noncitizens and Civil Liberties; Sex and Immigration

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