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The Complexities of Conditional Residency and the Perils of Sham Marriages

In a recent ruling that underscores the intricate nature of U.S. immigration law and the severe consequences of fraudulent marriages, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied an Argentine man's attempt to remove conditions on his permanent residence. This decision highlights the critical importance of the authenticity of marital relationships in immigration proceedings and serves as a cautionary tale for those navigating the path to permanent residency in the United States.

Walter Gabriel Bernardo found himself at the center of a legal storm when his U.S. citizen spouse withdrew her support for their joint petition, a move that ultimately led to the termination of his conditional permanent residency status and the initiation of removal proceedings against him. The pivotal moment in Bernardo's case came when his wife declared their marriage to be fraudulent, thereby invalidating the joint petition crucial for the removal of conditions on his residency.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the BIA hinged on the fact that once Bernardo's wife retracted her support before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could make a decision, the petition was no longer deemed filed. This procedural nuance meant that the immigration judge was precluded from reviewing the petition, as the judge's purview is limited to reviewing USCIS denials, not petitions that were withdrawn before a decision was reached.

Bernardo's efforts to contest this outcome were met with skepticism by the BIA. He argued that his wife's decision to withdraw from the petition was coerced, driven by her fear of potential criminal prosecution. However, without her testimony or other compelling evidence to support this claim, the panel found Bernardo's arguments unconvincing.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the legal and personal complexities involved in conditional permanent residency and the removal of conditions based on marriage. It highlights the paramount importance of establishing and maintaining the legitimacy of a marital union in the eyes of immigration authorities. The consequences of failing to do so, as demonstrated in Bernardo's case, can be severe, leading to the unraveling of one's residency status and potential deportation.

For those seeking to navigate the labyrinth of immigration law, particularly in matters related to marriage and residency, the expertise of an experienced immigration attorney is invaluable. Such professionals can provide crucial guidance on maintaining compliance with immigration regulations and representing individuals in complex legal proceedings.

Bernardo's case is a cautionary tale that reinforces the necessity of legal counsel in immigration matters, emphasizing the role of credible, bona fide marriages in the immigration process. It also serves as a reminder of the rigorous scrutiny applied by immigration authorities to prevent abuse of the system through sham marriages.

As we reflect on the implications of this case, it is clear that the path to permanent residency in the U.S. is fraught with challenges and legal intricacies. For those embarking on this journey, understanding the legal landscape and seeking professional guidance is not just advisable—it is essential.


"Sham Marriage Dooms Man's Bid To Avoid Deportation" by Micah Danney, Law360, February 8, 2024.

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