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

“You don’t have to do it,” he said.

“I’m doing it for the movement,” she replied. “And for you.”

“I had to think about it for a couple of days,” Jose admits. “I didn’t think she was serious.” Over the next couple of days, the two talked about the next few years—what they would face, what they needed to do, how their lives would change.

“He’s a sweet guy—how can I not help him?” she now says. “He’s like a brother. It’ll be easy.”

Juan laughs nervously. Two of his friends pulled off a fake marriage, but it ended up ruining their relationship.

Roberto and Roberta first met in the same social circles of work, though from different strata. She was a secretary for a law firm, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who had succeeded in this country; he was a janitor who cleaned the offices of Roberta’s company. After months of friendly chitchat, he gathered the nerve to ask Roberta on a date. It turned into a brief, passionate, stormy relationship. The main problem: Her parents didn’t approve.

“They try to portray themselves as liberals, but they’re as prejudiced as Minutemen,” Roberta says with a dejected, disgusted tone. “Flat-out, they didn’t like that he was poor and dark-skinned.”

Their fling didn’t last, but Roberta wanted to help Roberto with his legal status. His case was simpler than most: Though an illegal immigrant, his family had come to the United States from Mexico City on a visa when he was 7 and just never left. U.S. immigration law allows such illegal immigrants to remain in the country after they get married and start the process to legalize their status.

Besides, Roberto offered to pay all of Roberta’s bills during their marriage. But she remained skeptical. “I sat down with him,” she says, “and told Roberto, ‘I want you to know that our past is the past. If something happens in the future, it happens. But let’s keep things in check. Let’s approach this like a job.’”

They married in 2002, both of them just 20 years old, and only had to go through one interview, with no follow-up investigation. Living together rekindled their passion, but it only lasted a couple of months. He continued to love her; she moved on. But Roberto wouldn’t take the message. “He became jealous and possessive—I couldn’t even go out with friends, let alone find someone I truly liked,” she says. “But at the same time, I couldn’t get too angry at him because I made a commitment to help him. He’s a good guy, and I’m glad I helped him out, but it was a nightmare for me.”

When she asked him to formally divorce her so she could move on with her life, he refused. It took $2,000 to convince him otherwise.

They finally divorced last year. Roberta hasn’t spoken with him since.

*     *     *

For immigrants in Orange County trying to attain their green cards through marriage, interviews take place at the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) field office in Santa Ana’s Civic Center. USCIS’s District 23 covers Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Approximately 200 immigration officers work the area—home to one of the largest concentrations of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the United States—trying to detect immigration fraud of all kinds.

Chief of staff for District 23 is Martha Flores, who has worked with USCIS since 1982. She seems like a kind woman, and she is quoted often in Southern California newspapers after swearing-in ceremonies for new American citizens. But ask her about illegal immigrants and marriage, and she’s matter-of-fact.

“If they want to adjust their status, they have to have had a legal entry into this country,” says Flores, who works out of USCIS’s district headquarters in Los Angeles. “If they [came on a visa that expired], they can adjust it here. If they entered this country illegally—well, they’re not supposed to be here, and if they fell head over heels in love, they have to go back to their own country, and they have to do the visa process abroad like everyone else.”

Illegal immigrants who get married and want to become legal residents must file two forms with USCIS: Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. After their submittal (and payment of fees of $355 for the former, more than $1,000 for the latter) and subsequent review by immigration officers, couples must go through a follow-up interview. Commonly called a Stokes interview, after the 1975 fraud case Stokes v. INS, couples answer questions posed by an investigator to determine whether this is a legitimate marriage or one of convenience.

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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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