The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently announced that a total of 44 people, many of them based in Orange County, CA, had been indicted, based on an elaborate scheme to obtain fraudulent immigration visas for hundreds of aliens through sham marriages to U.S. citizens. The indictments capped a 3-year investigation, known as Operation “Newlywed Game”. The suspects now face a variety of federal criminal charges, including conspiracy, fraud and misuse of visas, making false statements in passport applications, marriage fraud, and inducing aliens to enter the U.S. illegally (alien smuggling).
According to ICE, the fraud scheme involves “facilitators”, “recruiters” and “petitioners”. The facilitators charge up to $60,000 to “fix” marriages between aliens and U.S. citizens, and submit fraudulent immigrant visa petitions on behalf of the aliens. The facilitators often use recruiters, who were typically paid $1,000 for each referral (finding U.S. citizens willing to marry aliens and submit the immigrant visa petitions). The U.S. citizen petitioners were paid thousands of dollars, plus travel expenses, in order to travel to the alien’s home country to meet and marry them.
After the sham marriage, the facilitators helped the petitioners and aliens file bogus immigration petitions, and would coach the petitioners and aliens on what to say at their adjustment of status interviews, in order to convince the USCIS officers that it was a “love marriage”.
However, the scheme began to unfold when some of the facilitators used the same petitioners over and over again, with some of the U.S. citizens having several “spouses” at the same time, and submitting numerous fraudulent spousal petitions. When the California Service Center started matching the same petitioners submitting several petitions on behalf of different “spouses”, they alerted ICE agents, which started the investigation.
According to investigators, the suspects went to elaborate lengths to make the sham marriages appear legitimate, through wedding pictures, fabricated love letters, and even fraudulent joint tax returns.
This should be a lesson for anyone considering a fixed marriage. While obtaining a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen is one of the fastest and easiest ways, it is critical that the marriage must be for love. You must intend to have a life together, live under the same roof, etc.
Not only does this investigation point to the criminal consequences of fixed marriages, but immigration law also provides for a lifetime ban for anyone who is ever caught in a fixed marriage. This means that if a person is ever caught in a fixed marriage, they can never get a green card through any other means – whether they are petitioned by another U.S. citizen (for love), an employer, or even a U.S. citizen child.
That is why it is so important that you seek the advice of a reputable attorney, who can advise you on legitimate ways to legalize your status, so that you will not resort to schemes and scams.
Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 25 years, and is an active member of the State Bar of California and New York, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He has always excelled in school: Valedictorian in High School; Cum Laude at UCLA; and Law Degree Honors and academic scholar at Loyola Law School, which is one of the top law schools in California.
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(This is for informational purposes only, and reflects the firm's opinions and views on general issues. Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of a particular case. All immigration services are provided by an active member of the State Bar of California and/or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar. No prediction, warranty or guarantee can be made about the results of any case. Should you need or want legal advice, you should consult with and retain counsel of your own choice.)