“It didn’t bother me that he was undocumented,” said Mrs. Avila, an American citizen who moved here from Michigan in 2003. Like many, Mrs. Avila believed that once she married, the process of getting her husband’s status legalized would be simpler than it is.
She was wrong.
In 2005, there were approximately 6.6 million families in the United States in which either the head of the family or the spouse was unauthorized, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Just getting married to a U.S. citizen does not grease the rails to permanent residency, even for someone entering the country legally. And the task gets far more complicated, sometimes impossible, for illegal immigrants.
According to current law, even if a relative or a spouse asks for someone to be granted permanent residency, it can be a three- to 10-year bar, depending on how long they have lived in the United States illegally.
Along with massive amounts of paperwork, there are interviews with immigration officials, background checks, court papers to file, medical exams, fingerprinting, photographing—many little parts that add up to the whole.
The cost can be prohibitive. Filing fees, medical exams, photos and other expenses can cost about $2,000, immigration lawyers say. Attorney fees can add from $1,500 to $6,000 on top of that.
The process is easier if someone has simply overstayed the term of a visa since those cases can be handled while the person remains in the United States, Mr. Olsen said.