Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon

WASHINGTON (December 2, 2008) -- Each year, tens of thousands of United States citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), at both home and abroad, meet and marry foreign nationals. Spouses of American citizens have priority over most other immigration categories, making marriage the quickest way to receive a green card. As the new Obama administration prepares to take office, the long dormant debate over levels of legal immigration is sure to resurface, but that debate is unlikely to include discussion of fraud amongst the most common path to American residency. The prevalence of such fraud contributes to illegal immigration, poses potential national security vulnerability, and clogs the system for legitimate applicants.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research organization, has released a new Backgrounder detailing the ways the marriage-based green card categories are exploited and offers recommendations to protect the system from fraud. “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon,” was written by David Seminara, a former Consular Officer with the U.S. State Department who has adjudicated thousands of marriage-based green card applications in several countries. The Backgrounder is available for free online at http://cis.org/marriagefraud.

Among the findings:

• Marriage to an American citizen remains the most common path to U.S. residency and/or citizenship for foreign nationals, with more than 2.3 million foreign nationals gaining LPR status in this manner between 1998 and 2007.

• Marriage fraud for the purpose of immigration gets very little notice or debate in the public arena and the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have nowhere near the resources needed to combat the problem. Attention to fraud is not just for the integrity of the legal immigration system, but also for security reasons. If small-time con artists and Third-World gold-diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can do (and have done) the same.

• Marriage to an American is the clearest pathway to citizenship for an illegal alien. A substantial number of illegal aliens ordered removed (many of whom have criminal records) later resurface as marriage-based green card applicants. Waivers granted to those marrying U.S. citizens can eliminate ineligibilities for green cards, including the 3/10-year bar on entry for those with long periods of illegal presence.

• The decision-making authority for green card applications lies with the Citizenship and Immigration Services officials who rely almost exclusively on documents, records, and photographs, with little opportunity for interviews or investigations. Consular officers reviewing cases overseas conduct live interviews and can initiate local investigations, but may only approve petitions, not deny them.