Green Cards Triple in a Worrisome Category — Abused Spouses of Citizens

By David North on September 7, 2016

New data from the Department of Homeland Security shows a highly worrisome increase in the number of green cards issued to aliens (almost always alien women) who have successfully claimed that their (usually new) U.S. citizen spouses abused them.

Everyone is concerned about abusive spouses, but I find it highly unlikely that the actual incidence of spousal abuse among citizen-alien couples tripled between 2013 and 2014. What is much more likely is that the sleepy people at USCIS have turned a blind eye to a growing trend of fraudulent use of a provision in immigration law that allows an abused spouse to secure a green card largely on her unsupported testimony that her new citizen (or green card) spouse has been abusive to her.

The new data shows that 2,657 spouses of U.S. citizens secured green card status by claiming abuse in fiscal year 2013, and that 7,600 of them secured the same kind of visa in the following year. Were male citizens three times as likely to beat their alien wives in one year than in the prior year? Probably not.

Green Card Decisions on Behalf of Spouses Successfully Claiming Abuse

Fiscal Year Spouses of Aliens Spouses of Citizens Totals
2010 1,066 6,135 7,201
2011 1,618 4,661 6,279
2012 1,017 3,192 4,209
2013 661 2,657 3,318
2014 1,106 7,600 8,706

Source: Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics for the years cited, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Table 7.

Every couple of weeks we at the Center hear from yet another citizen, usually but not always a male, who contends that he was conned into marrying an alien woman (usually younger, sometimes much younger) who proceeded to dump him as soon as she secured the conditional green card for newlywed aliens, and who then sought permanent green card status by arguing that she was abused, and thus eligible for the benefit under the Violence Against Women Act. Routinely the citizen spouse complains to DHS, and routinely that agency decides on behalf of the alien, not responding to the citizen's complaints, often not even telling him of its decision.

These are often heart-breaking stories, as my colleague Dan Cadman and I have reported from time to time (see here and here). The flawed DHS rationale must be: Of course he will deny he abused her, so we must always decide in her favor.

This is not to suggest that all the alien women's claims are fraudulent or to imply that sorting out such claims is not difficult, but divorce courts have been coping with these kinds of challenges for generations and DHS should at least give the discarded men a chance to argue their case in something like an open court.

The table above shows two different classes of alien brides, those who marry citizens and those who marry permanent resident aliens. Those in the first group can become legal residents immediately and there is no upper limit on the number of visas that can be issued. Those in the second group must wait for nearly two years in some cases, and for more than six years in others, for the issuances of visas, as numerical limits apply.

The data on the spouses of aliens is less worrying than that on the spouses of citizens for three reasons:

  1. The first class is within a numerically limited set of visa issuances, so an increase in the class does not increase immigration generally;
  2. The numbers are considerably lower than in the citizen column, which makes sense as there are far more U.S. citizens than resident aliens to marry; and
  3. The 2013 to 2014 increase was considerably less dramatic for the spouses of aliens than it was for spouses of citizens.

Further, the less attractive terms of the visas for spouses of aliens suggest that if there is to be fraud in part of the program, it will be in the citizens' part of it. The government's experience in the amnesty of 1986 was that the more attractive of two amnesty offers secured more questionable applicants than the less attractive one. In those days it was the farm worker provisions of the law, rather than those that applied to long-time illegals, that attracted most of the fraudulent attention. (I spent most of two years on a Ford Foundation grant studying the program.)

Let me close on a more cheerful note. I secured the 2014 data from the relatively recent release of the internet version of the 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, a publication that had languished for years. Soon it will be available in hard copies as well, which pleases me as my own collection of these volumes goes back to 1961. The new edition does not seem to have new features in it, but it records the same sets of statistics, more than 100 pages of them, that immigration groupies have been using for years. Its arrival is a welcome development.

Some months ago, DHS appointed Marc Rosenblum, a long-time immigration scholar until recently with the Migration Policy Institute, to be deputy assistant secretary in charge of the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, an organization that had dwindled to a staff of three. He told me in a conversation last week that there now is an adequate staff and that the 2015 edition will be out before the end of this calendar year.

A bit of inside baseball: The deputy assistant secretary title is an indication that the department is finally taking the statistics office seriously; the people in charge of the office in the past did not have that title.