True love or scam?
From the St. Petersburg Times-
Two years ago, driven by a campaign to strengthen the immigration system amid national security concerns, every immigration district in the nation set up a new unit called the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security.TFM has a very contrarian view(Much of which comes from my personal experience with Immigration procedures) of Immigration compared to many of my fellow conservative bloggers. That said, I'm fully aware that sham marriages take place in order for an immigrant to get a green card. Read my posts here and here for example.
In the six-county Tampa Bay area, marriage fraud accounts for 95 percent of fraud cases, said Timothy Shavers, head of the unit.
It's an old scam, he said. Marrying an American remains the fastest route to a green card.
In the two years since the unit's inception, Tampa immigration officials have turned in about 200 immigrants for deportation. Sixty cases have been referred for criminal prosecution. One case can include dozens of people.
If officers suspect that a citizen married an immigrant as a friend or favor, they typically let the citizen go in exchange for a signed confession, Shavers said. The immigrant spouse faces deportation.
In some cases, especially if investigators find that money changed hands, criminal charges can be brought against the immigrants before deportation. Citizens who cooperate receive immunity, Shavers said, though sometimes they too are charged.
Mainly, the government wants to catch immigrants. "We don't know these people," he said.
Americans caught in false marriages almost always crack, said Shavers, who threatens them with a 15- to 30-year prison sentence on charges ranging from visa fraud, conspiracy, falsifying documents, making false statements and marriage fraud.
The going rate for marrying an immigrant is between $10,000 and $35,000, Shavers said.
Officials have seen it all: spouses who live together but sleep in separate bedrooms; Americans married to immigrants who still live with an original spouse from their country.
Tell-tale signs: no joint checking accounts or utility bills; new bank accounts; a recent divorce and marriage just before meeting with immigration officials.
It's not unusual for investigators to follow a couple or make 4 a.m. visits to verify that they live together, Shavers said.
But it almost always comes down to the interview: that last step to get a green card.
One of the ways ICE tries to prevent marriage fraud, is through the I-751 form aka removal of Conditonal Status of Permanent residency. This is supposed to ensure that a recently married couple is still together after the alien spouse gets residency.
My wife and I had to go through this procedure after our 1989 marriage. While I feel this is a necessary to prevent fraud, there is the widow penalty where alien spouses have been punished. The only reason being their spouse having died before the two years were up.
Now for the story of Nelly and Jeff Boyette.
They married in 2001.I have no firm opinion whether the Boyette's marriage is real or not. Here's some observations.
But that morning last August, Jeff rose from bed, flicked on the light and walked into the bathroom - not realizing his recollection of those steps was about to become far more important.
The couple drove to the Tampa office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to secure Nelly's permanent residency. Nelly, 32, left their photos in the van. Jeff, 42, didn't think to bring his wallet.
Both considered the appointment routine.
When Jeff and Nelly Boyette walked into the immigration office, they were separated.
An agent bore down on Jeff:
Where is your bedroom in the house? Where is the bedroom light switch? How many knobs are in the shower? What did Nelly eat for breakfast? Was your last Christmas tree real or fake? What is your home address? Your telephone number? When did she return from her last visit to Peru?
Jeff flubbed several answers. He said the tree was real. Nelly said it was fake. The tree wasn't theirs, they explained later. It belonged to someone who shared the house where they lived.
Jeff also didn't know the couple's address, phone number or the date Nelly returned from a visit to Peru two weeks before, officials said.
Jeff said he did know the address. But he keeps their telephone number written down in his wallet, which was in the van.
"We're always together," he said. "I never call the house."
And the only thing he says he remembers about Nelly's return from Peru was his relief to have her home. The more the agent pushed, the more irritated Jeff said he became.
"You think I'm playing? You can do 15 years," Jeff remembers the agent telling him as he displayed his badge.
The agent told Jeff if he came clean, he could leave without being arrested - just confess that his marriage was a sham. Jeff insisted he was telling the truth. The agent didn't believe him.
Nelly's application was denied. Instead of a green card, she was ordered to court this February for deportation.
Jeff left the office shaking and crying, Nelly said.
"Let's go, Papi," Nelly told him, shaken from her own interview but more worried for Jeff. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
* * *
The official denial letter cited Jeff's inability to answer basic questions and the couple's failure "to provide any utility bills, automobile or health insurance."
The couple doesn't have health insurance, Nelly said. They lived with his mother for several years before moving in with her sister in Tampa, so they don't have a lease. They're saving for a house of their own.
She tried to show the agent utility bills that day, she said, but he refused to look at them. She showed the Times two electric bills from 2004 in both their names. They've also filed income taxes together since 2002.
Nelly's scrapbooks show pictures of the couple with family and friends dating back years.
1- Asking a couple what your spouse little details proves nothing. My wife doesn't know my favorite color and if asked which side the light switch is on, may get it wrong because she mixes up left and right sometimes. That's after us being married 18 years.
2- No health insurance doesn't prove anything. How many Americans are uninsured right now? Don't we hear about this in the press all the time?
3- A joint tax return is no proof either. The 'couple' could be doing this as a pretense.
4- Photo albums could help prove a relationship. If there are enough collected. Better proof would be statements from friends, co-workers, members of the clergy if the Boyettes go to church. When doing my wife's I-751, we got a letter from one of the priests at our church. We were regulars at weekday morning mass and in the church choir. We were familiar faces at the church. (Dear Wife is now an employee there)
Note- The St. Petersburg Times notes the Boyettes are already doing this. They've gotten statements from their former postman and a Nun.
Bottom line- There is marriage fraud out there. On the other hand, ICE treats immigrants as guilty till proven innocent and is often wrong in enforcing the simplest of immigration matters. Its hard to tell who is right in the case of Jeff and Nelly Boyette.
Linked to- Conservative Thoughts, Morewhat, Pirate's Cove,