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Immigration Law and the Regulation of Marriage

85 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2006  

Kerry Abrams

University of Virginia School of Law


This Article argues that much of federal immigration law functions as a form of family law. Although the conventional wisdom holds that family law is state law, federal immigration law actually regulates marriages that involve immigrants much more extensively than state family does, often unintentionally. This Article maps the architecture of federal immigration law regulation through the four stages of marriage: courtship, entry into marriage, the intact marriage, and exit from marriage through divorce. It shows how laws that appear at first glance to effectuate immigration policy - including the immigration provisions of the Violence Against Women Act, the requirement that citizen spouses sign an affidavit of support in order to sponsor their immigrant spouses, and immigration laws prohibiting marriage fraud - all regulate the creation and dissolution of legally recognized family relationships, and/or determine the legal rights and responsibilities of family members, in other words, function as family law. It then offers ways of analyzing whether Congress is acting within its immigration power when it passes laws that regulate the family.

Keywords: marriage, immigration law, family law

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Kerry, Immigration Law and the Regulation of Marriage. Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 91, p. 1624, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Kerry Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-7361 (Phone)

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