The bride was a Chinese woman in need of a green card. The groom was an impoverished US citizen itching for a bundle of cash. One month after they first met, they tied the knot in Temple City, CA. Among the wedding guests were her husband and his boyfriend.
Their sham marriage and their fake honeymoon to Las Vegas, NV, were arranged by a simple green card gang — one California man and his daughter. A three-year federal investigation and sting operation revealed that the two Americans had arranged at least 70 fraudulent marriages for immigrants looking to become US citizens. The two charged up to $50,000 for their services, and often paired illegal aliens with hopelessly poor (sometimes homeless) citizens who were desperate for cash.
The two aren’t the first green card ring to earn millions of dollars orchestrating fraudulent marriages. Each year, an estimated 60,000 fake marriages are organized to offer a simple means of citizenship to illegal aliens.
Just this year, another California couple was arrested for setting up more than 100 fake marriages for aliens who wanted to stay in the US. The husband of the couple, who served as the ring-leader of the operation, now faces decades in federal prison.
The crooks that arrange these unions charge tens of thousands of dollars to skirt federal investigations into the legitimacy of green card marriages. They stage weddings and honeymoons complete with photo shoots and coach the couples on how to appear legitimate. More importantly, they tend to the mountains of paperwork: creating fake marriage certificates, tax returns, bank statements, and leases that list both spouse’s names.
Despite the plethora of forged paperwork, many couples still suspected of staging their marriage are required to attend an immigration interview with a federal investigator. In the interview, the officer separates each partner and individually asks a litany of intensely specific and often embarrasing questions, such as “describe the location and origin of each of your partner’s scars," and “what’s your spouse’s favorite sex position: missionary, doggy, cow girl, etc?"
If the couple fails the immigration interview and their sham marriage is discovered by the feds, both partners face criminal consequences. At best, the non-citizen spouse is immediately deported. At worst, both spouses face prison time for multiple felonies. People who marry to circumvent immigration laws can be charged with visa fraud, harboring an alien, and conspiracy.
Bree, an urban designer working out of Denver, CO, married Danny, her boyfriend of one year who’d been living in the US on a nearly-expired work visa. Although their marriage is authentic, they feared being forcefully separated by the same authorities that bust sham marriage rings. Before attending their immigration interview a year from now, they’ll have to send investigators pages upon pages of evidence that their relationship is legitimate. Bree claims, “We paid $250 for our first consultation with an immigration lawyer. Then, the lawyer costs $300 per hour to look over our paperwork. There’s over 200 pages so far. A lot of them are Facebook records, screen shots of text messages, photos from vacations — any proof we could put together that we’re legitimate.”
Laura Lichter, an immigration lawyer in Denver, comments that even countless pages of evidence may not satisfy investigators. Lichter says that authorities sometimes stage morning bed checks — inspections to check for the presence of both spouses in the house they claim to share. “Someone shows up at your house with a badge and a gun, unannounced, saying ‘Hi, we’re here from immigration. Do you mind if we come in to look and see if two towels are wet?’" she says.
Such intrusive practices make marrying into citizenship a nightmare for both real and phony couples. But it doesn’t keep immigrants from trying. If they can’t find genuine love, they don’t mind faking it for the feds.
And green card cartels are happy to play the match-maker. In the modern mayhem of online dating, arranged weddings, bi-coastal relationships, open marriages and serial divorce, a genuine relationship is difficult to discern from the patched-up couples a cartel can throw together. Mix one desperate immigrant with one penniless vagrant and viola! A happy American couple. For millions of dollars, a conspiracy charge to arrange these marriages is a risk worth taking.
It's curious that in a time when so many Americans whine that they want to leave the country, so many would risk life and limb to take their place. Thankfully, for a mere $50,000 and a hobo husband, the American dream can belong to anyone.