I occasionally watch “Elementary” on CBS. My wife is a big fan. Since we only have one TV, let’s just say that if my wife is watching it, then I’m watching it.
The December 6, 2012 episode (“You Do It to Yourself“) happened to have an immigration subtext. The thing about watching TV shows and movies as a lawyer is that sometimes, you just can’t turn it off (lawyer brain, not the TV). For example, when I was about to take the bar exam, some of my classmates decided that as a study break, we would go see “Legally Blonde.” After the movie, we spent a good few hours breaking down all the inaccuracies. So much for a “break.”
Anyway, I digress. (Oh, if you are also an Elementary fan and you haven’t watched your DVR yet, stop reading now . . . spoiler alerts.) Elementary is a re-imagining of the iconic Sherlock Holmes character being transplanted into modern-day New York and helping the police solve crimes. In this episode, it appears that a professor’s wife — who happened to be a woman from China who had overstayed her visa — hired a hitman to murder her husband so that she could be with the man she really loved. However, that happened at the 30-minute mark, so you know that can’t be the end of the episode.
So, this is where immigration lawyer brain kicked in.
Hollywood: Sherlock determines that the wife (who wasn’t actually married to the professor because he went back on his promise to marry her and fix her papers) didn’t do it after all, and now he feels bad because by arresting and charging the wife with murder, she has been brought to the attention of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Real life: Unfortunately true. Even though the charges were dropped, she is still inside the United States without authorization and the government may properly begin proceedings to seek her deportation.
Hollywood: The professor didn’t marry her because he was using her as a sex slave and he was recording everything. The professor kept her in line by constantly threatening to expose her status to ICE.
Real life: Victims of rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation would be eligible for a “U visa.” In addition, one would need to show “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of the crime and “helpfulness” to the law enforcement agency that investigated the crime.
Hollywood: The police made a call to the City Clerk’s office to expedite the marriage of the two lovers. As a result, once they’re married, ICE will now have to “back off.”
Real life: Not so simple. If she had entered on a K-1 fiancee visa, the only way that she can obtain a green card is through marriage to the person who filed the K-1 petition (here, the professor). Marriage to someone else: very problematic.
If she had entered on a tourist visa, overstayed, and then married a U.S. citizen, then there’s a chance of living happily ever after. First, she and the husband would need to prove to the government that the marriage is “bona fide.” In non-lawyer speak, the marriage cannot be entered solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card. By the way, when a marriage occurs after removal proceedings have begun, the government presumes that the purpose of the marriage is to avoid deportation. Non-lawyer English: The couple has to do more to prove that the marriage is not a sham.
If you would like to speak with me about immigration, contact me. Or we could talk about my wife’s favorite TV shows: Elementary, Nikita, Gossip Girl, and Grey’s Anatomy.