Citizenship Through Love

Why naturalization through marriage is popular in the U.S.

Explainer Video:

Marriage and Citizenship

Hollywood’s perception of citizenship through marriage is very different from reality. The thought of someone becoming a U.S Citizens just from marrying a current U.S citizen is untrue. The process is far more complex. 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.
Hackensack, NJ 03/09/19. Citizenship Thought Love: Bergen County Clerk, John Hogan, sitting at his desk at his in Hackensack, NJ going through marriage papers. Before performing the wedding ceremony, Hogan must find the proper paperwork to give to his clients to legitimize the marriage.  -Photo by Shane Reed/ Montclair State University

Sitting at his desk printing out marriage documents, John Hogan, is getting ready to perform one of his many duties as Bergen County Clerk. Having already performed 10 marriages that day, Hogan, like on many Saturdays, will have to preform 10 more weddings. Hogan is about to conduct a wedding between Andres Cacrera and Irene Munoz. Munoz was born in the United States, but Cacrera was born in Columbia and is still looking to become a naturalized U.S citizen.

Hogan says that a quarter of the weddings he performs share a similar story. In fact, naturalization through marriage is a very popular way to gain citizenship in the United States.

“In the 2016 fiscal year, 304,358 spouses of U.S citizens ‘naturalized’ to become citizens.” According to the Department of Homeland Security.


That is 40.43% of the total immigrants naturalized in 2016. Being that almost half of those naturalized people gained their citizenship through marriage, many wonder why this particular method is so popular. Is it for love, or legal status?

Immigration lawyer Emily Bendana, who works at the Law Offices of Salvatore Bellomo, doesn’t believe immigrants get married for legal status.

“This big idea that you can marry to gain citizenship and that people do that is a myth,” Bendana said. “The entire process from start to finish is a minimum of 5 years… It would take a lot of time and a lot of energy, especially to be with somebody you wouldn’t want to be with.”

           With the current political climate, some people would question the legitimacy of these marriages and the motivation behind them. President Donald Trump has been enforcing and adjusting immigration policies to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, which forces people to gain citizenship if they want to stay in the United States. However, immigrants like Maria Marco would be an example of Bendana’s thoughts on immigration and marriage.

            “My husband was Cuban, but he was born here in America,” Marco said. “We didn’t do it for the papers, or nothing like that. We just got married because we fell in love.”

            To become naturalized as a spouse of a U.S citizen “you must have a permanent resident (Green) Card for at least three years and have been living in marital union with the same U.S citizen spouse during such time.” According to

Becoming married to a U.S citizen does not give automatic naturalization to a person seeking legal statues, but it does create a faster route to citizenship.

“We didn’t do it for the papers… We just got married because we fell in love,” Marco Said.

            At the Hackensack Health Department, where couples can receive marriage certificates, some of the employees have dealt with fraudulent cases where people try to take advantage of the marital status naturalization process. In one case, a customer applied for a marriage license, but her spouses’ signature on the license was not his.

            “Even though his signature was there, that wasn’t his signature. He never came to our office to apply for the marriage license,” Deputy registrar Marta Jovell said. “The lady told me that he’s trying to get married now to somebody else who can give him legal status in this country.”

            Maria Tartaglione, another deputy registrar, notices particular details when dealing with a couple just trying to gain legal status for one of the partners.

            “One example could be where one of the applicants is the U.S citizen, or was born in another country and became a U.S citizen and they have all the documentation, where the other person only has a passport,” Tartaglione said. “So that’s a way you could tell maybe this is for papers.”

            Tartaglione, Jovell and the laws are put in place to try preventing people from taking advantage of the naturalization process, but there will always be some cases where people try to scam the system. Hogan has dealt with hundreds of people who marry for love, and who may have had an alternative reason for marrying, but he believes he can always sense when the marriage is truly for love.

“You can tell when it’s for real,” Hogan said. “If they come prepared like they’re coming for a wedding, they’re not coming with their street clothes on, they’ll look in to each other’s eyes there’s a number of (ways) you can tell.”

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