Not all marriages are made in heaven; some, in fact, are illegal.
"Marriage fraud is a federal crime, and can have grave consequences," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Todd Siegel. Siegel, who works in HSI’s Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit, said, "Marriage fraud is neither a trivial nor victimless crime."
Marriage fraud poses a national security threat, damages the integrity of the U.S. immigration system and endangers U.S. citizens who enter into these fake unions.
The 9/11 and Terrorist Travel Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorists Attacks upon the United States, cites a U.S. Government intelligence report that stated that Abu Zubaydah, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 and held in Guantanamo Bay "said that some of the al Qaeda operatives married American women to obtain U.S. visas." The report also stated that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (KSM), the principal architect of 9/11, "believed it was a fantastic mechanism for operatives to acquire valid documents."
To help educate the public on the dangers of marriage fraud, Siegel is spearheading an HSI nationwide campaign, which began last year, to stop marriage fraud. A massive push of training, print materials, posters and social media is designed to inform U.S. citizens about the dangers of marriage fraud. HSI is alerting partner organizations of current trends and concerns, raising awareness and spreading the word to deter individuals from getting married under false pretenses. HSI’s message is that U.S. citizenship, the most valuable benefit offered by this country, is not for sale and there are consequences for those who commit this crime.
What is marriage fraud? Basically, it’s when a foreign national and a U.S. citizen get married, not to establish a life together, but as a means for the foreign national to remain in the United States indefinitely. The goal of a foreign national who commits marriage fraud is to become a lawful permanent resident and ultimately, a U.S. citizen. Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens do not have to wait for a visa, and after a 2-year conditional period there are no restrictions on status. Additionally, marriage fraud is one of the shortest pathways to U.S. citizenship, which can be granted after only three years of lawful permanent resident status.
Obtaining that status (commonly referred to as a "green card") opens a lot of doors. It allows freedom of movement within the United States – and the unfettered ability to travel abroad and return freely. It authorizes employment and provides access to government buildings, bank accounts and businesses. Moreover, attaining U.S. citizenship by fraudulent means allows opportunities for nefarious individuals to harm the United States.
In some cases, a foreign national dupes a U.S. citizen into marriage by professing true love. In other cases, the U.S. citizen is in on the scam, accepting payment as part of the deception. The "couple" usually plan to get divorced later, believing no one will be the wiser. Even more blatant is when facilitators are involved, who for a fee, find U.S. citizens willing to enter into marriage fraud schemes. In some cases, facilitators fill out necessary paperwork and also prepare the participants for their in-person interview(s) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials.
Wedded bliss is not the outcome for U.S. citizens who are either duped into marriage fraud or voluntarily say "I do" under false pretenses. The marriage can become abusive in many ways, including physically, financially and/or emotionally. Additionally, marriage fraud comes with the potential ramifications of legal proceedings, financial penalties and prison sentences.
A recent HSI investigation in Los Angeles, Calif., exemplifies how marriage fraud is a thriving illegal enterprise. On March 26, 2014, Alake Terry Ilegbameh was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison for arranging multiple fraudulent marriages.
County clerks, the officials who issue marriage licenses in most states, understand more than most the magnitude of this issue. The National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks and its members are key partners in HSI’s efforts to thwart this serious crime.
The bottom line is that there are serious consequences for those associated with sham marriages. For more information on marriage fraud visit ICE.gov.