Fraudulent Marriages Remain Risky Avenue to LPR Status

Many immigrants share the dream of achieving lawful permanent residency (or “LPR”) in the United States. There are limited means of getting LPR status: work visas, family visas, the visa lottery, or one of the unusual categories such as “T” (human trafficking victim) or “U” (crime victim) visas.

Many of these avenues are difficult and uncertain. Work visas, for instance, require an applicant to have a proposed employer, and if the applicant has been in the United States illegally, the applicant must submit to interview outside the country and risk a ten-year bar on re-entry. The visa lottery system is haphazard and difficult to win. Nobody wants to become a crime victim to qualify for a rare T or U visa.

That’s why the family visa remains the most common. For many immigrants, a marriage to a United States citizen is the only realistic hope of LPR status. But if you’re outside the U.S., or you’ve just gotten here, how do you meet and marry a citizen? The temptation to enter a fraudulent marriage is strong — and many succumb to it. But entering a fraudulent marriage carries many long-term risks for an immigrant that outweigh the benefits.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (“the INA”) doesn’t explicitly define marriage fraud. But the INA carries many prohibitions on fraud in general: “Any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under this Act is inadmissible.” (8 U.S.C. section 212(a)(6)(C)(i).) Both the immigrant and the citizen spouse face serious consequences. Under Section 275(c) of the INA, “[a]ny individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provisions of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both.” That penalty applies both to the alien and the citizen spouse. Both parties could also face charges for visa fraud, false statements to the government, and conspiracy. Furthermore, under Section 237(a)(1)(G) of the INA an alien found to have committed marriage fraud can be stripped of LPR status and is deportable.

The sheer number of immigrants to the United States lulls some people into thinking that the government will never detect their marriage fraud. But the United States Custom and Immigration Services, Custom and Border Patrol), and Immigration and Custom Enforcement are constantly working together to attack and decrease the number of aliens that receive the benefits of marriage fraud. For example, Inaldo Chavez and Caridad Baez were sentenced to 21 months imprisonment and had their U.S. citizenship revoked and naturalization certificates cancelled as part of a large immigration fraud initiative in Miami last September. A co-conspirator, Masiel Puron, was sentenced to 10 months Earlier this year, in Jacksonville Florida, another marriage fraud sweep resulted in the indictment of Mark Laurence Barlaan, Winnie Rabaya Barlaan, Mary Helen Amaba Barlaan, and Peter Laforteza Barlaan for marriage fraud, immigration document fraud, lying to a federal agency, and conspiracy to commit those crimes. Last August, the parties pleaded guilty to immigration fraud and are facing consequences ranging from time in federal prison to deportation.

While marriage fraud may be tempting when LPR status is so difficult to achieve, the grave potential consequences should deter immigrants from trying it and lead them to seek competent counsel about other options.

Victor Herrera

Victor J. Herrera is an associate of Brown, White, and Osborn LLP. His practice includes immigration, criminal law, and litigation. He has handled a wide variety of cases, including asylum petitions, removal proceedings, immediate family petitions, employment petitions, and human trafficking visas.
Victor Herrera