What's a Little Marriage Fraud Between Amigos?

It's a felony, sure, but in the absence of real immigration reform, some young, assimilated illegal immigrants see it as their best path to citizenship

What's a Little Marriage Fraud Between Amigos?

The names of the couples in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

If Juan and Juana were going to stage a fake marriage to help Juan get his green card, the two of them figured, they might as well treat some friends to a great meal.

They invited eight of their closest pals—four guys, four girls, people whom they could trust with a felony—to dinner at Thai Nakorn in Garden Grove. A dress code was enforced: men in suits, or at least long-sleeved shirts, and women in dresses. No slacks, no heels, no curry.

Over plates of nam sod and fried trout, washed down with some beers, Juan and Juana enjoyed an evening out with amigos. She wore an off-white strapless dress; he, a suit bought off the rack at Men’s Wearhouse, his first. Juana’s friend snapped photographs throughout the night—at one point, Juan stood up to propose a toast so the friend could take the shot, but he merely posed for the camera, mouth open, and said nothing. Everyone laughed, as the disposable camera flashed and whirred onto the next frame.

The following day, the group drove to the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, wearing the same clothes from the faux banquet. They posed for pictures at the western entrance of the historic building, on the steps near the marriage license office. In pairs, just the guys, just the girls, just the couple, everyone together. Juan even pulled off the garter belt from Juana’s thigh for a photo—the first time he ever placed his hands within a foot of her nether regions. Friends developed the photos at CVS Pharmacy, the better to play the part of poor kids in love.

A week later, Juan and Juana sat down for an interview with an officer in the Santa Ana offices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government agency that handles requests by migrants to enter this country. They weren’t nervous—years of close, platonic friendship meant they knew each other’s stories, and they had consulted with friends and relatives who had staged fake weddings as well. They were prepared. Not even the penalties for marriage fraud—automatic deportation for the offending immigrant, a ban from ever applying again for legal entry into the United States, up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine—made them sweat. Much.

They showed the officer the pictures from Thai Nakorn, from family gatherings. Holding hands. Kissing.

The agent’s questions were accusatory when they weren’t outright skeptical.

Where were your parents for such an important ceremony? she asked the two. In Mexico.

Wouldn’t they have flown up for the occasion? Yes, but we’re having the actual celebration down there.

What about other family? They know this is just a civil ceremony and will fly down to Mexico for the real celebration.

And when is that? Near Christmas.

But that’s six months away. We know, but that’s when our families go down to visit.

Why not hold it here?

Juan and Juana didn’t look at each other—instead, they literally bit their tongues. The officer silently flipped through the photos. After about an hour of questions and photo-browsing, the officer put the pictures down. “That was a really nice dress you wore, Juana,” she said. “Hope your wedding in Mexico goes well.”

There would be no more investigations, the two thought. The ruse was a success. That night, Juan and Juana invited their respective lovers over to their house for a celebration.

*     *     *

The banquet hall at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello is in bedlam. An 18-piece banda sinaloense, its brass section and bass drum so loud you can hear the music from the parking lot down the hill,booms through “La Víbora de la Mar” (“The Sea Snake”). It’s a jaunty children’s tune played during Mexican weddings that finds grown men and women engaging in a version of “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” except participants race around the dance floor progressively faster and faster, hands interlocked, under the arms of the bride and groom.

Josefa claps along with the crowd. This is her favorite part of weddings, but she hasn’t joined any snaking lines for the past couple of months. The 24-year-old is still single, still searching for a guy who will sweep her off her feet like a bad Anne Hathaway chick flick. But she must subsume her heart’s desires for the foreseeable future—she has a fiance.

Jose is holding her hand, awkwardly. He wears a long-sleeved checkered shirt, wrinkled khakis and black dress shoes. His brow is moist; they’ve danced all night, but close observation of the two would’ve revealed no romantic chemistry.

Jose is gay. Nevertheless, the two are getting married. A 26-year-old illegal immigrant who came to this country when he was 13, Jose hasn’t been back to his native Mexico City since leaving. He’s assimilated down to his love of Beyoncé and horn-rimmed glasses. He did everything a young migrant is supposed to do in the United States: graduated high school near the top of his class and finished college magna cum laude. But Jose’s degree in business from Cal State Fullerton is worthless without the legal means to work, so the Stanton resident earns a living by working the books for his cousin’s landscaping service. He dreams of becoming an accountant but must wait, one of the millions of illegal immigrants who came to this country as children, knowing little of the native lands they left long ago yet relegated to a perverse limbo in which they are culturally, but not legally, Americans.

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31 comments
NavaKarma
NavaKarma

What is all this hate for the Native Americans and other immigrants...Greco. I consider that reverse discrimination. So do cry discrimination when you yourself dish it out. We are indigenous. Your historical and territorial accounts are very sad. I have been hearing those rethorics lately I hope you are not teaching your children that. Patriotism is having the upmost respect for your alligence. Arizona has been a state since 1912 and a part of the USA. Respect that. You enjoy the fruits of your labor here in Az but you are disrespecting the hand that feeds you. Without the US where would you be. Respect Man!

Megan25
Megan25

You have misrepresented the real process of adjusting to status through marriage. Legal Status through marriage is not that simple. If a person entered illegally, they are banned for up to ten years. Only a long and complicated pardon process where the "illegal" goes back to their home county and waits for one, maybe two, sometimes ten years can resolve the illegal presence. Marriage fraud may be an easy target, but in reality marriage is not the easy path most assume. The spouse must prove that they will suffer extreme hardship if forced to move to the othre country or forced to live in the US without their spouse. Couples are denied all the time. They wait up to two years for a decision and then discover that the pardon has been denied.Even couples with children can be denied for "lack of extreme hardship." Look it up, I 601 waiver process. Many people who are married don't try to become legal becuase of the risks and the expense involved in the process.

Greco
Greco

Well let me tell u something......this country should give papers to everyone who is here illegaly bcause....USA needs them....and u also need them more....And people who are against illegal immigrants...u have been born in a country thats is not urs and dont mention ur founding fathers bcause they came from europe and indians came from the south......almost every single gringo that goes to live to another country.....lives there for free....doesnt pay taxes...and got everything...and dont work...and im surprised that some people are saying that illegals take jobs from us citezens...thats not true...u are lazy to go and look for those jobs thats why u never find it...and if u find something like laboring u are afraid to do it....because u dont want to get sunburns or wanna get paid more...how in the world do u think this is gonna happen...if u work on the fields and want to get paid $15 or more u are crazy......u dont buy a pound of grapes or tomatoes etc..for $15 but yes for less...but if u want to give it a try go to pick up grapes in california....there are many positions availables as grape pickers ...dont b afraid....to do the job u really want USA BORNS ...and i i dont call u americans because thats wrong...u call americans not only to the usa gringos....jajajajjajjaja but to everyone born in the whole american continent......HE DICHO...

Vaughn Treude
Vaughn Treude

This is something I've always wondered about so-called "marriage fraud": assuming you're straight and otherwise not totally committed to someone else, why not just have sex occasionally? Could it be so bad? :-)That said, I hate to come off like a bleeding heart, but our immigration laws (like so many of the laws in this- or any- country) are completely arbitrary B.S. crafted by a bunch of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. How many of you self-righteous hypocrites respect all the other laws- speed limits, tax laws, DUI laws, drug laws (including pot, of course)?With a few laudable exceptions, the "respect the law" crowd seldom advocate reforming the immigration laws so they're workable and reasonable. Especially since 9/11 and all the resulting "terrorism" hysteria. But that's what happened with Prohibition and the 55-MPH speed limit, and it _will_ happen with our immigration laws as well. Get over it.And the violence- that's the American demand for drugs overwhelming the already-corrupt Mexican society, just like the Volstead Act created Al Capone. We have the power to end that at any time.VT

Melikkia
Melikkia

When is everyone going to get it that if you(or your ancestors) are not Native American ( that includes any of the peoples from the Americas) then you are the immigrants not us. My family has never been from what you call south of the border and I am tired of the mob mentality that is permeating throughout our state. Strangers who know nothing about me are suddenly acting like I am a martian. My family was here before yours, we are law abiding citizens, have never been on welfare or food stamps and work for what we have. (and by the way it is your people that cause the recession and the fact that most of your will if you're not already be on welfare and food stamps)

fidgette
fidgette

Makes no difference who came when one hundred or two hundred years ago. The thing is that they are coming now. Breaking the law now. Taking jobs from me and others. Unemployment is a very good reason to send them home. Just like they are leaving Arizona before the law goes into effect, they would leave this nation if the feds would just enforce the laws on the books now. Stop pandering to mexico. Put your fellow Americans first.

AZlawsupporter
AZlawsupporter

Like I said elsewhere in this thread, Native Americans (Indians) also came from someplace else. The tired notion that because we are all immigrants tries to give claim to lawbreakers being okay to jump in the front of the line illegally and demand that a foreign nation (USA) GIVE them rights is absurd. We already have a path to citizenship in place. Follow it! If you don't like it, then stay in your home country until the laws get changed in the USA or in your home country to make it favorable to your staying or leaving. US taxpayers are already overburdened with taxes and not are unwillingly paying for the care of foreign nationals illegally here and receiving more benefits oftentimes than citizens. This is where foreigners don't get it! We don't want to take care of you and provide you with free benefits at our expense especially when we are going without. If you are a hard worker, then work hard in your own country to make it better place and pay for the foreign nationals that come there. By the way, I have Native American in my ancestry, and they too came from someplace else. Thank you very much!

Azproud
Azproud

I couldn't even finish reading this story. The writer is using a sad attempt to pull at the heart strings but it isn't working. I'm all for coming to this wonderful country as long as it's done legally. The writer should have posted the criminals names and reported them to the authorities but then what else would I expect from a rag like the New Times.

dragon
dragon

Well said.Glamorizing turds that should have been turned in.

pugluverz
pugluverz

I sincerely hope that the day comes that I can stand in front of my maker and state honestly that I did judge anyone, nor did I hold prejudices towards any being regardless of nationality, color, race, ethnicity, creed, orientation, or perhaps intelligence level.

pugluverz
pugluverz

Since you think that is the only definition, perhaps you may want to expend you horizons. 1.A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith. I do not judge people for their belief, period, regardless. If they choose to participate in a religion that may be at odds with MY maker, or theirs, they will have to answer for that, not me.

Jeff S.
Jeff S.

Ummm, your maker might object to your support of false gods. i.e. creed.

Dkinaz80
Dkinaz80

For those who were children and became over 21 while waiting for their parents immigration status to change, they should be granted same status as their parents, especially if they are under 18 when their parents applied. For those who went to college in a US institution without filing for a student visa, should be made to work for the government at a lower wage until a set time....

Let's face it, illegal immigration isn't just an issue for those coming from the south, but is an issue for all fronts. so why are there stories about the south? because there are so many illegals from the south that even if things were processed legally, no new immigrants would be allowed from the south.

Every country or region has x amount of people the US allows into the country as a permanent resident... also a worker visa is dependent on the skills set you have. but let's face it, there is a stigma that those from the south who are here illegally don't have a strong work ethic... or that the only jobs they know how to do is manual labor.

Weather that is right or wrong, doesn't matter. And just an after thought. Someone commented that those from the south need a family member or sponsor in order to get into the country.

That's the same for anyone in any country. It's part of the immigration process. Unless you can show you have your own income, or a job waiting for you to support x number of dependents in a household, you will not be granted permanent residence. There has to be someone legally responsible for you financially to be granted a green card. It can be company, a friend, a relative, just someone from the U.S. willing to say, I will pay for all his food and housing if they don't get their own job.

So I say this to all those from other countries who are here illegally. Find someone to sponsor you / support you, go out of the country and apply to come back into the country legally. For those who came here with their parents and their parents have legal status, have them vouch for you. Or find someone who will actually marry you because they love you, and not with the intent to defraud the system....

Kathleen
Kathleen

Are we still to believe these people do not have criminal intent? It is part of their culture and unless Americans wake up, and wake up soon, we are going to allow them to turn our country into a clone of the violent, lawless, and corrupt third world countries these illegal alien invaders left behind.

keyadanale
keyadanale

i was thinking, when will the white men of arizona stop running after the mexicans and start apologizing to the indians in the north and northeast being trampled by company behemoths who are after the natives' coals and other natural resources? when will arizonans stop the massacre happening until now of the indian's land, killing of their goats and uprooting of the very shrubs that are medicinal to the indians? so please, arizona has more than 19 indigenous tribes, what has the white man's policies done to uplift them?

AZlawsupporter
AZlawsupporter

Every person in the USA including Indians came from someplace else. Although, I am a person of color, I recognize that it was primarily the Whites, Blacks, Indians, and later the Asians that made this great nation what it is today. Mexicans had little to do with the creation of this great nation yet they want to claim it for their own. Mexico was not even a country (it was held by Spain) when this great nation was being built. Black slave labor was one of the greatest contributors and not Mexicans which gives them a unique claim to this land and not Mexico. Mexico has been a bad neighbor in not taking care of their own people. US taxpayers (myself included) are not willing to take care of people who have no legitimate right to be here or other than Mexicans who have no right to be here. Mexicans have demeaned the word racist and racism by spouting it when it does not even apply. Simply crossing the border (illegally) does not entitle any of them to the same rights as hardworking US citizens who will do any type of work available for a fair, equitable, living wage that has been depressed by people who should not be here. The US taxpayers send money every year to Mexico and other countries through foreign aid programs only to be exploited by corrupt governments. We should not be taking care of all these people here also. The world has 6 billion people where many want to come to the USA. We cannot and will not take care of all of the worlds people. No country has the resources. If we continue on this slippery slope of enabling illegal aliens, we will soon become a third world country within maybe 50 years with poor and destitute people. We already have poor and destitute US citizens so we should focus on taking care of them. How do you deport 12-20 million illegal aliens? One illegal alien at a time! That's what we should do!

ArmBar
ArmBar

"Are we still to believe these people do not have criminal intent? It is part of their culture"

Hmmmm... way to stereotype -Shame on you-

john knapp
john knapp

if your here illegally, go back to where your from, apply to come here legal. iam from germany and my wife is from vietnam, it took us 3 years and a couple of thousand dollars, but the system works just takes time, i have no college degree , and not rich, istarted working as a cab driver. and wife as a nail tech, and that took a year of school for her license. we live below average income levels, whats the problem? i think you want everyone to feel sorry for ilegals. they have already got away with more than the deserve

LOPEZRIVERA0310
LOPEZRIVERA0310

IF THESE PEOPLE WOULD BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO COME HERE LEGALLY THEY WOULD!!!! FOR MEXICAN PEOPLE TO COME HERE LEGALLY THEY NEED TO HAVE A RELATIVE THAT IS A CITIZEN TO HELP THEM GET A VISA...DID YOU YOU NEED HELP FROM A RELATIVE CITIZEN OF THE US??THE PROSESS IS MUCH EASIER FOR ANY OTHER COUNTRIES EXCEPT COUNTRIES FROM THE SOUTH.. THAT SHOWS HOW THIS COUNTRY IS RACIST!

Jdposey1
Jdposey1

This country is less racist than Mexico and Mexicans. Stop yelling racism when it does not applyl. Stopping illegal aliens breaking the laws established by government is not racism. The person calling it racism is the racist for wanting something for nothing and not wanting to follow the rules. Stop being bigoted and learn to identify real racism when it slaps you in the face. This is following the law also known as rules and regulations. We all have them and they are not all racist!

Barleycat
Barleycat

Varying restrictions are placed or removed depending on how many people from a certain country are entering the U.S. There are more restrictions for those coming from the south because of the large #'s of people wanting to enter the U.S. The #'s entering from Germany are low.

I understand your frustration but the U.S. just can not absorb the flood of immigrants from the south. There wouldn't be enough room for the immigrants of other nations. Hence the restrictions.

wasabe
wasabe

Anyone who is aware of these ILLEGAL acts that doesn't immediately report them to the authorities is also guilty of a crime and should be dealt with accordingly. WHAT part of illegal isn't being understood here?

Painesdaughter
Painesdaughter

when will you start writing a series about the other kind of illegal immigrants in the US? those coming from western europe who looks white but can't speak straight english and have proper jobs but deal with I.D. faraud, gun-running and prostitution on the side?

mis2810
mis2810

Not sure where you're getting your information, but this is not the procedure anymore for marrying an illegal immigrant. The procedure you're describing was prior to the end of the 245(i) law. It is MUCH MORE DIFFICULT to do this now - whether the marriage is fake or real.

1MillionStrongSupportSB1070
1MillionStrongSupportSB1070

This is drivel. A fake story, I think. I am tired of our newspapers here in Phoenix trying to make us REAL US Citizens feel sorry for the illegal population. They are here ILLEGALLY. So sorry that your parents brought you here when you were a kid...but the problem lies with your parents, not our system. If you want to blame someone, blame them.

keyadanale
keyadanale

you are not suppoed to feel sorry. you are supposed to realize there is another side to the story perpetuated by some phoenix leaders that all who come here illegally have criminal intentions, rather than the former and more human and admittedly, unchallenged: "it was allowed for so long. i need work, i will work". if our leaders were not in too much of a hurry to gain favors from the extreme right, they would have been able to realize that arizona will gain more by supporting some path to legalization for those who have no criminal records. when you see and hear mr. pearce on tv, all one hears is his anger. where have all the data-driven, cool-headed leaders of arizona gone?

Gilmorenw818
Gilmorenw818

I think someone is telling falsehoods trying to stir the mud.Its just too fake.Listen folks believe me there are enough real stories out there which are more factual,you don't have to try and get people to believe this garbage let immigration do their job,which they do very well without your help.Come back when you have real facts,I already heard some of your friends telling how you made up this....shall I say "garbage"

Mikycp
Mikycp

I Agree! The truth is never so long winded.By the way, I am all for stream lining immigration systems for those who want to follow the process like every other non-citizen.AFTER we have in forced our laws and bring some form of order to the chaos along our boarders.

 
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