Till USCIS Do Us Part: A Look Inside Green Card Marriages

| August 20, 2013

black-couple-wedding-ringsThis piece was initially published by Afrikan Goddess Mag’s editor in 2007 at Nigerian Village Square. It has been edited and reproduced for our publication.

Adelaide’s Story

Adelaide is a dainty, dark-skinned beauty. Seated across from me in the busy coffee shop, she looks calm and collected, and extremely ladylike. One would never know the hurt and pain she carries deep inside simply by looking at her. Taking a sip of her coffee, her fingers nervously tap the mug as she brings it to rest inches from her lips. She gathers her nerves and begins to tell a story that would make any compassionate heart ache with an all too familiar pain.

Born to parents of Nigerian descent in the small college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, Adelaide was raised on the values of hard work, determination and generosity. She grabbed every educational opportunity life afforded her and ended up a brilliant pharmacist at Walgreens.

With a sigh, she runs her finger under her eye in an attempt to stop the tears that are threatening to fall. I hand her a napkin, but Adelaide fiddles with it without wiping her eyes. Instead, she takes a deep breath and begins to speak in a low voice.

Adelaide met Eric at a party hosted by one of her close female friends. He was charming and very difficult to ignore.  Adelaide was immediately smitten. She expressed interest in Eric to her friend Chinwe who then set up the date. One date led to another then another, until a relationship was established.  Adelaide describes their relationship as comfortable from the start. Of course, she and Eric had problems just like any normal couple. The stress of work and Eric’s constant apprehension about something she knew was bothering him, but couldn’t quite place a finger on, led to many of their fights. She would later find out that Eric was in the United States on an expired visa, and had been since his graduation from college a year prior. All efforts to try and secure a job that would assist him in adjusting his status had been unsuccessful so far. He had applied to a number of graduate schools in various states, but was having a hard time finding a program willing to sponsor him on a full scholarship.

“I could see that things were taking a toll on him. He was always anxious and sometimes even seemed a bit depressed. He settled for working odd jobs here and there. He said unless he found a legal way to stay in the US, he would have to go back to Nigeria. We both didn’t want that to happen. We knew we wouldn’t survive a long distance relationship of that nature. We were in love and I couldn’t stand the thought of us being apart. But the thought of marrying him so he could stay also scared me. I had heard of all these stories of women who had been left with next to nothing after helping their men secure their legal status. So I was a bit hesitant to offer marriage as a solution. Eric never brought the matter up either, but I knew he thought about it as an option. It was eating me alive that I held a solution to his problems in my hands but was scared to do anything about it. What woman would I be if I didn’t help the man I loved, the man I believed loved me too, and whom I hoped was going to be part of my future anyway?”

There’s a pause as Adelaide stops to wipe away the tears that have slowly started to roll down her cheeks. She blows her nose into the tear-stained napkin and checks her face in her hand-held mirror. She continues:

“After a lot of soul searching and reassurance from Eric that he was not in the relationship short term and that he wanted to marry me regardless of his status, I was convinced that marrying him was the best decision I could make for our future. Eric and I were wedded in a small church ceremony with family and a few close friends from both sides in attendance. The small wedding was no fuss because Eric and I knew we couldn’t afford a big wedding at the time. My parents offered to pay for a lavish wedding, but Eric was too proud to let them – or so I thought at the time. He said he would make it up to me after he got his papers in order. He promised me we would have a bigger ceremony to renew the marriage. I settled for the $200 cubic zirconium ring he got me from a department store with the promise that he would upgrade that also when things got better.”

Adelaide blows her nose in an attempt to stifle the tears that are threatening to start again.

“I was in love, you know, what was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to seem unreasonable and demanding because I knew his situation and I truly cared about him and believed him when he said he would ‘make it up to me’. It was either get married or see him deported sooner or later.”

During the course of their marriage – after about a year – Adelaide says Eric’s attitude towards her began to change.

“He wasn’t abusive or anything like that. No, he’s too much of a gentleman to do that. He was distant. It was like he was trying not to be close to me; like he didn’t want to become emotionally connected. He kept me away from his family and friends and always made excuses why we couldn’t visit together. He accused me of being difficult and argumentative. Nothing I did seemed to please him. I began to doubt his love for me, but he said he loved me and couldn’t live without me and that he needed me. And I believed him. It was around this time that I began to question his motives for being married to me. I didn’t want to believe it, but the signs were all there. He was building the case for a troubled marriage so that in the end when he walked away, there would be no question that it was justified because after all, we did not have a good marriage. The sad thing is I thought because he was a bible-believing Christian, that he would want to live by the biblical principles of marriage no matter the reason for his being there in the first place. Anyway, I tried being a lot more attentive to his needs. I bent over backwards to please him but nothing seemed to work. I figured if I was a good wife and made him happy, that he would want to meet me halfway. He didn’t. Nothing I did or said seemed to make a difference. The fact is it had nothing to do with me! He would have left anyway because he had been planning to leave from the very start.”

At this point, Adelaide seemed ready to fall apart so we decide on a short restroom break.  I’m washing my hands at the sink and drying my own tears, my heart heavy with hurt and anger at what Adelaide has just been through. It dawns on me that her situation is not an isolated case, but a silent epidemic slowly eating away at the fabric and sanctity of marriage. Non-believers are doing it, and so are believers. My thoughts take me back to a Church I once attended where rumor had it the assistant pastor, who was openly married to his Ghanaian wife, was also married to an American woman for the purposes of securing a green card. Misfortune would befall this “man of God” when his American “wife” began to renege on their agreement. She had developed strong feelings for him and was demanding that he leave his wife and commit to her long-term. As I reflect on all Adelaide has revealed, I hear silent sobs coming from the stall behind me, and my heart clenches. She’s a good, generous and caring woman. She does not deserve this. No one does. I feel her pain and I too begin to cry.

“You don’t have to continue the story if you don’t want to” I say to Adelaide when she comes out of the bathroom stall.

“But, I do, I really do. Talking about it is actually helping. I haven’t cried this much since he left. Talking about it…being able to say these things out loud … thanks for being such a great sounding board. I’m glad you contacted me.”

“You’ll get through this. I assure her. “Surely, this too shall pass.”

Back at our seats, we’ve ordered fresh cups of coffee. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the wind and sun make a wonderful team outside. A gentle breeze follows a customer inside and engulfs us in its breezy warmth. Adelaide sets down her mug and looks at her hands. She’s twirling her wedding band. As if reading my mind, she smiles at me.

“I fell in love with this ring you know. I knew he couldn’t afford anything grand at the time, so I took what he could give me from his heart and I fell in love with it.” I nod in agreement as I fiddle with my own band, hands under the table and out of sight.

“Well, like I was saying, I did everything I could to be there, to support him the best way I knew how. I had my faults and so did he. But it was nothing we couldn’t have worked through had he been there for the right reasons! His emotional distance didn’t make things easy, but I tried.”

It’s been six months since Adelaide and Eric went for their immigration interview. Adelaide says Eric’s attitude towards her in the weeks leading up to the big day was incessantly sweet. He constantly talked about how things were beginning to look up and how he would be stress-free and a better husband after the interview. Well, things went well at the interview. Because Adelaide and Eric had already been married the mandatory two years at the time of the interview, he was granted a 10-year permanent stay. He wasted no time in moving out right after his green card arrived in the mail. He said the marriage wasn’t working, he wasn’t happy and he had tried all he could to make the marriage work.

Adelaide recently learned that her husband has secured a great job with an envious benefits package in a different state, and is currently living with another woman. She’s not sure how, or for how long the two of them have known each other, but she suspects this other woman was in the picture long before she and Eric said “I do.”

Adelaide and Eric are still married and neither one of them has since filed for divorce.

Akello’s Story: The Disturbing Trend

While the case of Eric and Adelaide can be considered an extreme case of calculated sneakiness on the part of the man she thought sincerely loved her, her story is like that of so many American men and women living the torture and pain of realizing they were simply a means to an end for their foreign spouses seeking heaven on earth in the land of opportunity.

Akello is a stunning and gracious American-born Kenyan attorney who says she will never again disclose her citizenship to any man she’s dating until she’s 100% sure of his legal status. When her husband, Phillip, first proposed marriage she wasn’t sure if it was genuine or because he knew the benefits involved in making her his wife, although the two of them had already been dating for two years. Akello is a smart woman, but she says her love was genuine and she wanted to believe Phillip’s was too. But she admits there was always the nagging question at the back of her mind every time something went wrong in the marriage.

”It messes up everything! You’re never quite sure whether the person is with you because they love you and want to be with YOU, or because of what YOU CAN DO FOR HIM/HER. Even when the love and attraction are genuine, the documented spouse begins to feel they can exert power over their foreign undocumented spouse in order to get what they want out of the relationship. Such insecurities can destroy any marriage.”

Akello says she and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Phillip, had strenuous marital problems but when they separated, she couldn’t quite figure out if it was something they could have worked through had they tried, or if Phillip left because he no longer had a need for her in his life.

Joseph had the same questions as Akello about his wife, Cynthia, who left him after nearly four years of marriage. Joseph’s constant cheating and wandering eye were more than Cynthia could take, so she left him right after she got her green card in the mail. “She always gave me the indication that all was forgiven and that she would stay and work things out together and that she loved me and would never even think of leaving me.” Yet Joseph can’t help but accuse his now ex-wife of using their marriage as a means to her legal freedom.

Tanya is an African American woman who poured her heart and soul into the man she loved and adored. When she found out Francis was illegally in the US and faced deportation but for her saving grace, Tanya offered to help him any way she could. She was a woman in love and convinced he felt the same. That meant a rushed marriage in a stuffy courtroom after only six months of dating which went against everything Tanya and her family had ever envisioned her big day to be. Her father, a Methodist minister, had always dreamed of a church wedding for his only daughter. To say he was disappointed, according to Tanya, is an understatement. Her mother refused to show up to the civil ceremony because she was so heart-broken.

Tanya could not believe herself. For a woman who has never owned anything but a Gucci or Prada handbag (authentic) her entire adult life, getting married to a broke African man with no legal status, and no corner office, in a stuffy courtroom across town – a place, she says, she only went when she had to appear for a hearing to protest her many traffic violations – was far from her dream romantic wedding. Because he could not legally hold a decent job, it also meant working two jobs while Francis concentrated on going to school full time, and footing most of the household bills. What Tanya did not know, however, was that Francis had a wife and two children living in another state – a wife he had married in his African home country who was also illegally in the US. His plan was to use Tanya to secure his legal status, file for divorce, and then file for his family.

US Immigration Law and Marriage

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States, one of the ways for foreigners to the United States to immigrate is based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. It is an easier and less restrictive way to secure legal residency than if one were to go through an employer or other legal means of becoming a green card holder. Because parents and children acquire relative ties through a natural biological connection which is difficult to fake, the safest bet for most illegal aliens is to secure their stay through marriage to a US citizen. After all, you don’t need a DNA test to prove your marriage to someone. All it takes is a piece of paper, prove that you live together under the same roof and faked affection for each other before an immigration official the day of the interview.

This wiggle room within the immigration system, though it has its many benefits for couples who genuinely fall in love amidst the misfortune of one of them being an illegal resident, has led to the deception of many innocent men and women who are blessed to have that precious birth certificate/passport that so many would kill for. Most US citizens who fall into this trap usually think they are marrying for love, while their partners who are usually fighting to survive the legal system, may not have the same intentions and/or feelings. Even if they did have the same feelings, the need and desire to secure their legal status usually outweighs their romantic feelings. In a few instances, some may even have spouses as in the case of Francis, or, as in Adelaide’s case, girlfriends from the past.

What We Are Doing to the Sanctity of Marriage

Marriage is an institution ordained by God for the holy union of man and woman – notwithstanding what we have turned it into today. It was instituted from the very beginning of time, and the union was meant to be permanent. Of course, this is also far from the case these days.

According to a confidential survey conducted by Afrikan Goddess for the purposes of this article, 3 in 5 Africans living abroad have either already been divorced, or plan to divorce their current spouse in the near future. 2 in 5 said they went into the marriage with deceptive intentions but fell in love and plan to stay married to their current spouses.

The numbers above are not surprising given the fact that many of those surveyed are in marriages of convenience. Those in genuine marriages, of course, said they would never contemplate divorce because it is non traditional and not the “African” thing to do.

When marriage becomes a business transaction between two people and/or an act of deception, it takes away from the sanctity and original intent of marriage as God ordained it. “The trend has become so common these days, one person upon learning my husband and I were married casually asked if it was a real marriage or a “paper marriage”, like it’s a question you automatically ask every married man and woman.” says Akello.

After Adelaide confided in a close friend about the problems she was facing in her marriage, she says her friend immediately asked her to be careful because Eric might just be in it for the benefit of a green card. “I couldn’t believe it! I was offended by her comment. Why couldn’t we just be having problems like any normal couple? Plus, I didn’t want to believe that anyone could be so heartless as to toy with another person’s heart for some card, especially not Eric. He was always so sweet and seemed genuine. He knew from the start that divorce was never an option for me. My parents have been married over 25 years and you would think they’re newlyweds if you met them. That’s the kind of marriage I have always envisioned for myself.”

What Adelaide and many Americans spared the trouble of being illegal immigrants fail to understand is that being an illegal immigrant is never easy. Some will go to great lengths to have the card Adelaide so ignorantly refers to as “some card.” For many, it’s the card that holds the key to their economic freedom, educational freedom, social freedom and even sometimes their freedom to move around and express themselves freely. But, at what cost do people intend to lay their hands on this precious green card? According to Daniel, one of our survey participants, he considers a broken heart a small price to pay. He has no regrets for what he is about to put his “wife” Vera through. Daniel who currently has his temporary green card says at a point in the marriage the love was genuine. But after Vera cheated on him he stayed because he had to, and has assured her of his forgiveness even though he knows that to be false.

According to immigration law, Daniel and Vera must be married an additional two years in order for him to be granted a permanent 10-year card. He says he is willing to put up with his wife another two years in order to gain his legal freedom even though in actual fact, he can’t stand her. Poor Vera has no idea what is going to hit her in two years! She thinks she has the most forgiving and loving husband the world could have ever afforded her. Hopefully, she can fully convert him and win his true forgiveness with pure and untouchable love that can melt even the most hardened heart in the next two years!

Revenge Triumphs over Evil

Tanya recently won a major court victory when she had her husband’s green card revoked. Cases such as the one she fought in court are usually very hard to prove and not many are successful without overwhelming evidence and facts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Today, Francis sits in a jail facing charges of fraud after which he will most likely face deportation. All this came just months after he threw a huge party for friends and family to celebrate the receipt of his green card. The grand party held Saturday at a rented hall was followed by a thanksgiving ceremony in church on Sunday as if God was beaming down on him from Heaven with pride for lying and scheming his way through a marriage.

So, why is Francis sitting in a US jail facing serious criminal charges and deportation less than two years after he received his green card and passport to freedom?

Tanya began to suspect her husband was up to something after he started going on frequent and sudden business trips that lasted days, then days turned into weeks, right after he received his green card. ”When he was home, there was nothing I seemed to do right! All of a sudden he had a green card and I had become the woman who wasn’t good enough for him. He complained and criticized everything. I suspected he might be having an affair so I hired a private investigator. I was only hoping to prove my husband was having an affair but what we found out…well, let’s just say it was a can of squiggly worms. My husband was living a double life. He was not just cheating on me; he was living with another woman. A wife and two children in another state. Polygamy? He got me over here in some polygamy mess! He kept peppering me with excuses for why we couldn’t get pregnant just yet. And come to find out he never planned on going very far with me beyond what I was good for – an INS interview! He was playing me all along, while I worked two jobs to feed his wife and kids living comfortably in another state.” Tanya, of course has every reason to be furious. She says she is far from being broken-hearted. She just wants to see him pay. To see him suffer for what he did to her.

It cost her a lot of money, but she was determined to see that justice was served against the man who deceitfully took her heart and crumbled it to pieces in such a calculated ploy. With the help of the private investigator, she was able to gather enough evidence to prove her case (with the help of the state prosecutor’s office) that Francis had entered into the marriage with the intent to deceive her and to use his marriage to her for fraudulent purposes.

“Am I happy that it had to end this way? No. But, it was either this or I would have killed him myself! How could any person be so wicked? I did EVERYTHING for him! I worked hard to keep the home so he could go to school and better himself. I sacrificed the luxuries I was so used to so we could have a comfortable life together and all along he was playing me?!”

One thing to remember is that God never and under no circumstance helps us scheme and lie our way through any situation – especially not a marriage! Giving thanks to God for seeing you through deception and for “making your dreams come true,” is like a thief who has successfully, yet again, gotten away with his loot offering thanks to God for helping him get away with making another person’s life miserable. It adds insult to injury, and blatantly mocks the name of God.

Adelaide says she started trying to gather evidence against her husband, Eric, but found it too exhausting and has given up. Instead, she says she has thrown herself into going to church and seeking a path towards forgiveness and peace. “He can have the green card and his other life. I hope it helps him sleep well at night. Adelaide strongly believes in the word of God, but having the support of her family has been a tremendous help in the healing process.

Moving On

Many people are desperate for ways to successfully integrate into American society. Unfortunately, one marital institution is the one taking the beating.

The trend of foreigners marrying American citizens solely for the purpose of securing a green card is nothing new and it looks like it’s here to stay.  The one thing that could help curb the trend is having an effective immigration policy in place that allows visitors to the United States to secure suitable paying jobs after which they can return home, and be readmitted if they decide to return. It seems to be the smarter way to go. Several African immigrants interviewed said they were willing to return to their home countries given a guarantee that they could re-enter the US and find suitable work upon their return. Most immigrants would rather not even be here but for the fear that returning home would mean denial upon an attempt to re-enter the United States.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and immigrants hungry for refuge and a taste of heaven here on American earth will usually stop at nothing for a chance to live the American dream. Lives have been lost, and others have been ruined in the process.

Women like Tanya, Akello and Adelaide will find it hard to love and trust again. They will forever live with the scars of betrayal and the nagging questions. It will take time for their hearts to heal.

Men like Joseph will question the motive of every woman who enters his life who might genuinely love him yet need help from him as well.

Francis will never know what he could have become had he been honest and true to the woman who loved him and gave him so much of herself in a selfless act of love.

Answers to these questions will linger and tug at the heartstrings of those suffering and feeling the pain of an aching heart. But, as Adelaide put it, “God does not work in a vacuum. He rewards those who diligently seek and obey him and the wicked will always reap what they have sown.”

(Note that while this immigration marriage crisis is nationwide and affects all races, Africans were the focus of this article for the fact that the paper represents and is focused on African issues.)

*The facts and stories narrated in this article are real, with events fictionalized, and names of subjects changed in order to protect their rights to privacy. 

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