Harry Reid Staffer Ignites Immigration Marriage Fraud Debate — Again

The contentious topic of immigration marriage fraud has been smoldering for years. Call them sham marriages, marriages of convenience or cash-for-vows, the goal is the same: a green card. In the case of Harry Reid’s staffer, money changed hands for a pro-forma “I do.” What’s behind the contentious issue of marriage fraud?

Nevada’s Democrat Harry Reid was embarrassed just before the midterm elections when it was discovered that a staffer not only accepted cold hard cash for a 2003 sham marriage to a man from Lebanon, but then went on to lie to the FBI about it. Of course, marriage fraud for the sake of a green card is hardly new.

Statistics show that applications for residency based on marriage have risen by 49 percent between 2003 and 2007. Obvious indicators of marriage fraud include payments made to so-called marriage brokers for arranging a match, unlikely couplings with respect to age and sexual orientation or even just odd matches based on values and religious creeds. Then again, love is blind and there are perfectly good explanations for any of these scenarios.

Even the facets of immigration marriage fraud vary. For example, it is not unheard of for a foreign national to divorce a foreign spouse, marry a willing American and then divorce the American after the paperwork is finalized and the status is adjusted; the final step may include a remarriage to the previously divorced foreign spouse and a petition to bring this foreign-born spouse into the country.

 

Americans may marry foreigners for love, while the foreign-born national may only have a green card in their sights. Conversely, both parties may be participants in a cash-for-nuptials scheme. Another common occurrence are friends who “do favors” for someone about to overstay a visa or needing an anchor to remain in the country after college graduation.

 

The real losers in the marriage fraud debate are the American people who are duped into welcoming scam artists and the hosts of bona fide marriage partners who find their privacies invaded, prodded and poked at. Immigration officials also fight a bit of a losing battle; after all, how can you tell if a marriage is for convenience’s sake or true-blue?

ICE agents have a surprising ally in the battle against marriage fraud: social networking. Banking on peoples’ “narcissistic tendencies” finds Department of Homeland Security workers now posing as “friends” on Facebook, MySpace, Classmates and Hi-5. While investigating immigration marriage fraud, agents may just be keeping a closer look at the photos and wall posts made by beneficiaries and petitioners.

Another twist that may eventually affect immigration marriage fraud is the possible legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. While it is already possible for a gay applicant to enter into marriage fraud with an American of the opposite sex, the legalization of gay marriage may broaden the pool of (un)willing Americans targeted for the practice. Personal prejudices of immigration officers, differences in lifestyle choices and also the fact that some homosexual relationships have been carried out ‘in the closet’ is sure to aggravate the assertions of marriage fraud and the investigations by the DHS.

Once again this brings up the question if comprehensive immigration reform must overhaul the laws and rules of the immigration system from the ground up. After all, in order to be ‘comprehensive’, it would need to apply to all immigrants, not just the groups for whom advocacy groups go to bat. How would such a reform deal with marriage fraud?

Sylvia Cochran offers an insider’s perspective of the American immigration system. Having gone through the steps of becoming a citizen — and currently living in a border state — she brings hands-on familiarity with hot-button issues to the table.