A new report reveals previously deported criminals and terrorists who want to enter or remain in the U.S. sometimes do so by finding an American to marry.
The Center for Immigration Studies reported the most common path to U.S. citizenship or residency for foreign nationals is by marrying an American. More than 2.3 million people entered the U.S. between 1998 and 2007 this way.
According to the report by former consular officer David Seminara, foreigners who wed U.S. citizens receive “immediate” preference status for immigrant visas. A full 27 percent of all green cards issued in 2007 were to spouses of Americans – nearly twice as many as those issued for employment-related purposes.
“Most relationships between Americans and foreign nationals are legitimate,” Seminara writes, “but because of the prevalence of sham marriages, legitimate international couples can face longer wait times due to the huge number of bogus marriage petitions that bog down an already slow and cumbersome visa bureaucracy.”
Center for Immigration Studies chart based on Department of Homeland Security statistics
The problem is evident when one takes into consideration frequent arrests for marriage fraud schemes and the thousands of websites that arrange scam marriages, he said.
He listed the following common types of marriage fraud:
- Mail order bride arrangements
- Phony “arranged” marriages in cultures where arranged marriage is still common.
- Cash-for-vows weddings, where Americans are paid to wed.
- Friends-and-family plans, where someone pitches in to help get someone else’s spouse to the United States.
- “I do, I don’t, I do” marriages where foreign nationals divorce their spouses in their home countries, marry Americans, and get green cards two years later; then divorce the Americans, remarry their original spouses, and petition to bring them to the United States.
- Pop-up marriages for visa lottery winners. Green card winners can bring their spouses to the United States, so many suddenly find financial incentive to marry shortly after winning the lottery.
- Exploitative relationships where Americans petition for persons they intend to traffic or exploit in some way.
- Heartbreakers, where foreigners dupe Americans into believing their intentions are true, when they actually just want a green card.
While visa applicants are required to submit to FBI criminal background checks, Seminara said FBI investigations rarely turn up crimes committed overseas.
“Also, if an applicant has a criminal history, but hasn’t been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude,” he wrote, “he or she is still eligible to immigrate to the United States. This means that consular officers can’t screen out obvious gang members, petty criminals, or thugs with numerous arrests, but no convictions.”
According to Seminara, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service officials are often “flying blind” when they review marriage petitions because they only have paperwork such as petitions, marriage and birth certificates, passports, photos and other documents to determine legitimacy of relationships.
Once couples receive conditional status on a foreigner’s green card, they are required to stay married for only two years. After that period, they may divorce without consequence.
The report states that the immigrant spouse becomes eligible for U.S. citizenship three years after the conditional status is removed. When this happens, they are allowed to petition to bring immediate family members into the U.S. without a waiting period.
Seminara reveals criminals and terrorists have caught on to marriage fraud schemes. He referenced Janice Kephart’s 2005 report titled “Immigration and Terrorism” where she outlined how terrorists, including members of al-Qaida, have participated in marriage schemes to remain in the U.S.
“Once in the United States, 16 of 23 terrorists became legal permanent residents, often by marrying an American,” Kephart wrote. “Marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the easiest ways to stay in the United States once within the country’s borders.”
Kephart revealed in a recorded conversation in 2000 between radical Islamists Abdulsalam Ali Ali Abdulrahman and Es Sayed talked about marrying American women while discussing jihad:
S: God is great and Mohammed is his prophet. They are dogs’ sons.
A: They are. Let me go to Germany and we’ll see: there are beautiful and brave women there, we have Jamal Fekri Jamal Sami. We marry the Americans, so that they study the faith and the Quran.
S: I know many brothers who want to get married, the American woman must learn the Quran.
A: They think they are lions but they are traitors, they perceive themselves as the world power but we’ll deal with them. I know brothers who entered the US with the scam of the wedding publications, claiming they were Egyptians and not revealing their true identity and they were already married.
S: You must be an actor, if they catch you it’s serious.
Also, Spanish authorities taped a second conversation on May 26, 2004, in which Rabei Osman described the theory “by which the ‘end justifies the means’ for the cause of jihad”:
Everything is permitted including marrying with Christian women, because we need [immigration] papers. We have to be everywhere, in Germany, in Holland, in London. We are dominating Europe with our presence. The women serve to obtain documents, because we are in favor of the cause of God.
Kephart’s report provides an extensive list of foreign terrorists who fraudulently married Americans to remain in the U.S.
Seminara said previously deported illegal aliens with criminal records often obtain green cards by marrying U.S. citizens as well.
“Deportees also are more likely to speak some English, making them more plausible partners for Americans who speak no other language,” he wrote. “For illegal immigrants, finding an American spouse is not just an aspiration, it’s a mission, and it is the most common way of returning to the United States for those who have been deported.”
Seminara claims the subject of fraudulent relationships is rarely examined in depth because it is difficult to study without “offending legitimate international spouses.” However, he wrote, “[M]arriage fraud is a serious problem that needs to be addressed if we are to implement any kind of meaningful immigration reform in the United States.”