Can I immigrate my husband if he lived illegally in the United States?

In this week's Consulta Migratoria® column, I answer a question from a reader who wants to immigrate her husband who lived in the country illegally.

Each case is different and the answers vary depending on each person's immigration history.

Here I provide general answers to your questions. Please consult with an immigration attorney to receive personalized legal advice before starting any procedure.

This is the column:

I am an American citizen. I married an undocumented Mexican a year ago. My husband just moved to Mexico and wants me to process his documents.

My husband was detained by immigration 20 years ago, but his record is now clean. Is it better to do the paperwork while he is in Mexico or to re-enter and do the paperwork in the U.S., paying for a pardon? If necessary, I can remarry him in Mexico and file from there. -Liz C.

Liz, your husband cannot re-enter the United States illegally. If he does, he could be subject to federal criminal charges and an immigration penalty that will not allow him to immigrate to the U.S. until he has lived abroad for at least 10 years.

You do not give me enough information about your husband's immigration history, including the dates of all illegal entries or attempted entries. This is necessary to determine the immigration penalties to which your husband may be subject.

For example, there is a law that penalizes persons who reenter or attempt to reenter illegally after having lived illegally in the United States for more than one year as of April 1, 1997. The law requires these individuals to live outside the U.S. for at least 10 years before immigrating through a family petition filed by a U.S. citizen spouse. In the case of your husband, it would be the petition you file for him.

Your husband needs to immediately consult with an immigration attorney to understand his immigration history and determine his legal options. Also, you should send requests for his immigration records to various federal government agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to ensure that he has not been deported from the U.S. in the past.

If it is determined that you can file a family petition on behalf of your husband, you will not need to remarry him in Mexico to file. You will be able to use the marriage certificate issued in the United States to prove that you are legally married. You will have to prove that you are a U.S. citizen and that your marriage is genuine and was not just for him to obtain permanent residency.

Your husband's case is complicated. You should consult with an immigration attorney before beginning any immigration proceedings.