The immigration laws of America is strict and often times unforgiving. Often when you fall out of status by overstaying or working without authorization, if the USCIS finds out, they will immediately proceed to deport you. The USCIS does not care for people who came here on a visa and break the rules of their status. What if you did overstay on a F-1/J-1/B-2 visa? What if you worked illegally, for many years, on a F-1/J-1/B-2 visa? Is the only way to stay in America by remaining illegal and invisible? Actually no! There is a way out. It is, as you can imagine, Adjustment of Status via marriage to a US Citizen. Yes, by applying for a marriage green card, you can actually get fully legal permanent residence in America and stay in the country as a legal resident!
How does this work? Well it turns out, as long as you entered the country legally through a F-1/J-1/B-2 visa, and then you get married to a US Citizen, it is ok to have over-stayed on a visa or even worked illegally without authorization! The main requirements of Adjustment of Status to permanent residence are:
1. The applicant must have properly gone through immigration process at a U.S. Port of Entry and formally admitted into the U.S. The applicant must present proof that they entered the United States with a valid passport and a valid visa. Exceptions are made for visitors from certain visa waiver countries and Canada when no visa is required.
2. The applicant must not be inadmissible such as having committed crimes in his/her home country and in America.
Therefore, if you had entered the country legally and retained your passport, I-94 and visa that you used to enter, you can use this to prove that you entered legally and is now asking for an Adjustment of Status to become a permanent residence. The immigration laws of America gives exceptions on immediate relatives of US Citizens to stay in America despite their “best intentions” on maintaining status.
When applying for AOS to green card through marriage, follow my guide on immigration by marriage to apply for the AOS and be sure to have retained the original passport, visa and I-94 to be submitted with your I-485 to let the USCIS know that despite that you overstayed or worked illegally in America, you did in fact enter America legally and therefore should be considered an exception for violating immigration laws when evaluating your application.
As usual, with situations such as this, it is often best to get a good immigration lawyer to represent you to increase your chances of a successful application. Also note that immediate relatives also include parents and children under 21 years of age.