Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Punishment for Unlawful Presence and U.S. Marriage Rates




Seidman College of Business

Date Range



Changes in immigration laws that punish immigrants' unlawful presence can have a substantial impact on marriage rates. This study examines the marriage propensity of residents in different sizes of immigrant-population counties before and after immigration law changes in 1994 and 1996. Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act 245(i) (LIFE) enacted in 1994 provided opportunities for undocumented immigrants to change their immigrant status without leaving the United States. Marriage to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident was one way an undocumented immigrant would become eligible for the benefits from LIFE. Before this law change, consular processing abroad was the only option for undocumented immigrants who were ineligible for adjustment of status in the United States. The Illegal Immigration and Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) enacted in 1996 imposed bars to entry on undocumented immigrants who accumulated more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the U.S. after April 1, 1997. The bars to entry applied only if the undocumented immigrants left the U.S. and tried to re-enter. IIRIRA bars to entry were critical to the immigrant visa process because, if undocumented immigrants were subject to bars of admission, they were automatically ineligible for consular processing outside the United States. Examining marriage behavior before and after the enactment of IIRIRA indicates that for some undocumented immigrants, the introduction of punishment for unlawful presence affected their marital decisions.

Conference Name

Western Economic 85th Annual Conference

Conference Location

Portland, Oregon

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