The Dangers of Chain Migration, Seen Through the Lens of the Orlando Terrorist Attack

By Dan Cadman on June 23, 2016

Those who kept up with the investigation in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attack by U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, of Pakistani descent, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani who entered on a fiancée visa to marry Farook, may have pondered — as I did — whether the two had united in a marriage that they arranged for the purpose of carrying out the attack in the first place. Certainly the indicators were there, including incendiary social network posts that long predated not only the attacks, but Malik's entry into the United States.

There can be many reasons to forge the bonds of marriage, and it is not inconceivable that a shared purpose of jihad is one. Consider the number of young Muslim women who have left comfortable homes and middle-class lives, often in Europe, to become the brides of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq (and perhaps now in some of its other global outposts such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, etc.).

You may also remember that as the investigation unfolded it took some twists and turns involving Farook's friend and sometime-conspirator, Enrique Marquez, Jr., who bought the weapons used in the shooting. Marquez, it turns out, was similarly involved with a foreigner, in an outright marriage fraud conceived of to obtain a green card for his erstwhile wife. He was ultimately charged for a variety of crimes, including the marriage fraud as well as material support for terror.

Marriage fraud for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits is commonplace; more common than most Americans think, and more common than our government wishes us to believe, because it casts a pall over romantic notions of love and bonding, not to mention disturbing the narrative this administration and immigrant advocates wish us to buy into about the boundless benefits of unrestrained migration.

Regular readers of the Center's website will probably know that colleague David North and I have routinely posted blogs about the phenomenon of marriage fraud: engaging in a phony marriage for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card for an alien. It is not a victimless crime, and isn't the cute scenario that Hollywood fabulists have made it out to be, where the two partners in crime fall in love and all turns out well in the end (see, for instance, here and here).

Marriage fraud comes about because our immigration system favors chain migration based on family connections, and marriage to a citizen by a foreigner permits one to completely sidestep pesky visa quotas and other restrictions that would otherwise impede his or her ability to enter, live, and work in the United States. Given the value of the prize, the volume of petitions government adjudicators have to deal with, and the existing climate where DHS leaders discourage benefit denials, many aliens take the chance because it's relatively low risk.

Putting aside for a moment the substantial amount of fraud that family-based chain migration engenders, there are also other dubious aspects of such a system, not least of which is the huge numbers that it begets because each chain generates other chains as alien beneficiaries who are husbands and wives then begin petitioning for their own families. In 2014, well over a million aliens were granted resident status. And this leads us to one of the other dubious aspects of massive chain migration: At some point the societal mechanisms for assimilation reach the breaking point.

Bits and pieces have emanated from the post-attack investigation of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, committed by U.S.-born Omar Mateen, of Afghan descent, that suggest all three of these consequences.

First, consider the migratory chains: Mateen's family came from Afghanistan. His first marriage was to a woman whose family came from Uzbekistan. His second marriage was to a woman whose family was Palestinian. Her first (arranged) marriage was to a man from Palestine. Chances are strong that, as quickly as possible, this first husband petitioned for his own parents, who after immigrating would in turn petition for the other children. If he has re-married, which is likely, we are left to ask: Was it another arranged marriage to a Palestinian, who immigrated courtesy of the marriage, and has she in turn petitioned for her parents? And back to the first Uzbeki bride of Mateen: Has she remarried, and to whom? Were immigrant visa petitions involved?

Next consider the aspects of assimilation, or lack thereof. News reports suggest that Mateen's father is the host of a television show broadcast in Afghanistan in which he routinely excoriates the United States and praises the Taliban — our mortal enemies, and a designated terrorist organization that sheltered Osama bin Laden. Mateen clearly had difficulty living torn between two cultures, with tragic results.

We don't know much about Mateen's first wife other than her Uzbek roots, but chances are pretty good that she grew up in a traditionally conservative Muslim household. Mateen's father, allegedly an ardent Pashtun who opposes Dari-speaking Afghans of Persian roots, would have much in common with such a family, given that Uzbekistan is a stronghold of traditional Islamic practice, and many of whose tribes also exhibit bad blood toward those in their country of Persian roots, such as the Tajiks.

Then there is Mateen's second wife, who suffered through an arranged marriage with a man she really didn't know, and who was chosen for her by her parents almost immediately after high school — she also grew up in a very conservative Muslim household. Worst, of course, is that during her marriage to Mateen, she had some pretty clear signs that he was planning something horrific. Did she notify the authorities? She did not. Did she tell her parents, or his? If so, they didn't turn him in either. The result, as we know, was a series of cold-blooded murders, in between which he called 9-1-1 to proclaim his allegiance to the Islamic State.

In sum, we don't see much evidence of assimilation at all from what we know of these families. In fact, the one word that comes to mind, when considering the families and their interconnections is "insular".

Finally, some aspects of the investigation suggest the disturbing possibility that at least one, perhaps more, of the marriages was fraudulently conceived.

As mentioned, Mateen's first wife was from Uzbekistan. Whether her arrival preceded the marriage hasn't been made clear in anything I've read, and it is a key question. She has been televised saying that their marriage lasted a sum total of four months, and dissolved because he was violent. True? Perhaps. Equally possible is that if the marriage was the basis for her procurement of resident status, then the marriage was arranged by the parents on either side not only to take care of the kids, but for a bride price that included her family getting a ticket to the United States. Whether or not that happened is hard to say at this point, because we just don't know enough.

But, also as mentioned, Mateen's second wife, Noor Salman, was also first married to a foreigner. The Chicago Tribune had this to say:

Her first marriage had been arranged in the Palestinian Territories by her parents, said Chahal [a neighbor], adding that the union did not work out.

"He was in Chicago and they were living there, but they were not married long," Chahal said. "They had cultural differences since she grew up here and was American."


Whether the differences were truly cultural is open to question. The Tribune article describes a woman who, apparently in deference to her highly traditional Muslim parents, didn't play in the street with other kids growing up, and didn't drive a car as an adult.

Certainly there is reason to doubt the validity of the first marriages of both the dead shooter and his second wife and to ponder whether they were arranged marriage shams. Let us hope that, behind the scenes, agents look into these anomalies as they did in San Bernardino.

But whether or not any of the marriages constituted fraud in the criminal sense, it is clear that the present system of chain migration based on family ties is not serving the national interest or homeland security or the coveted goal of assimilating immigrants into our way of life with its western values and largely secular society, based on the constitutional rule of law and a strict separation of church and state.