Marriage and Citizenship

Is marriage an easy path to naturalization?

Over the years, Hollywood’s released films like The Proposal and shows like 90 Day Fiance with an agenda to depict marriage between U.S. citizens and non-citizens as easy scams. Despite Hollywood’s successful marketing, campaigning, and capitalization on such notions, the reality is in fact far more complex. In actuality, through marriage, immigrants face a rather intricate and prolonged path to naturalization; it is anything but easy.

In 2016, naturalization through marriage peaked in the United States. Within the 2016 fiscal year alone, the Department of Homeland Security reported 304,358 spouses to U.S. citizens naturalized to become citizens. That is, 40.43% acquired citizenship through marriage whereas 59.57% became citizens through other mediums.

Although not nearly as high as the other 59.57%, 40.43% remains a significant percentage of the 304,358 individuals who acquired citizenship through marital modes.

HACKENSACK, NJ 03/02/2019: Maria Tartaglione works on filing some marriage licenses in her office at the Hacksensack Health Department. – Photo by Danielle Oliveira Weidner

Despite numerical reports, the intent of the couples union remains unreported and unknown, bringing into light the question: are people marrying for love or legal status? While raising questions of sincerity for some like Deputy Registrar, Maria Tartaglione, of the Hackensack Health Department who handles issuing marriage licenses.

“We do encounter undocumented couples who come here for the purpose of getting married to get documents,” said Tartaglione. “These couples do not vocalize this intent straightforward, but there are red flags you can identify. For example, one of the applicant’s is the U.S. citizen or was born in another country and became a U.S. citizen and has all of their documents, whereas the other person only as a passport.”

Aside from suspicion, instinct, and red flags, Marta Jovell, another Deputy Registrar to Tartaglione, has witnessed concrete evidence of the couple’s attempting to marry for papers.

In one of Jovell’s cases, a customer applied for a marriage license. However, during the application process, the couple forged a signature on the license.

“The spouses’ signature was there. But, it was not his signature” said Jovell. “He never came to our office to apply for the marriage license. Later, the woman told me that after they broke off their engagement, he tried marrying someone else who can give him legal status in this country.”

Despite Jovell’s fraudulent encounter, experts like Immigration lawyer Emily Bendana of the Law Offices of Salvatore Bellomo, notes that it is important to consider that out of the large quantities of cases coming in it is inevitable that there is bound to be some cases where people attempt to scam the system.


To Bendana, on the whole, such cases do not seem to happen as frequently as advertised particularly because of the laws put into place to prevent people from taking advantage of the naturalization process.

“The entire process from start to finish is a minimum of 5 years from when you file that paperwork to when you actually get that naturalization interview. That is the quick end of it.”

Emily Bendana, Immigration Lawyer

On a similar note, for others like Bergen County Clerk, John Hogan, who performs hundreds of weddings between U.S. citizens and non-citizens annually, the union between the majority of mixed-status couples do not raise any suspicions. To Hogan, the marriages are authentic.

“You can tell when it is for real. You can tell if they come prepared like they are coming for a wedding. They are not coming with their street clothes. They will look into each other’s eyes. There is a number of reasons you can tell” said Hogan.

Maria Marco, a Cuban immigrant, attests to Hogan’s opinion and observations. Marco shares a similar story with many of Hogan’s couples.

“I met my husband in Cuba. His parents were Cuban but he was born in America. We got married in Cuba and then I came with a fiancé visa,” said Marco, “We did not do it for the papers or anything like that, we got married because we fell in love.”

All—in—all, with consideration and taking into account the current political climate under President Donald Trump’s reign and cabinet, the questions and concerns of citizenship through marriage are of valid importance and consideration.

It seems to be that with each of Trump’s steps to enforcing and adjusting immigration policies with an aim of reducing illegal immigration, the window for citizenship applications dwindles. The options and routes are waning.

In turn, limited paths and bulldozing alternative routes may stimulate some to pursue fraudulent tactics like marrying for documentation. However, as explored through Bendana’s, Hogan’s, and Marco’s first-hand accounts, perhaps that option is not as easily traveled as broadcasted by Hollywood.

Yes—the option is there, but it is far more complicated than anticipated.


Hollywood’s perception of citizenship through marriage is very different from reality. The idea that someone can easily become a U.S. citizen from marriage is untrue. From the perspectives of the Bergen County Clerk, the Bergen County Health Department, and other experts in the field, this video will explain how naturalization through marriage actually works.

Additional Sources:

For more information on immigration related topics visit the hashtags #montclairmultimedia and #focusimmigration on

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