A (Relatively) New Form of Marriage-Related Immigration Fraud

By David North on August 27, 2013

There are two basic forms of marriage-related immigration fraud: What I call Class C (for cash or crime), in which the alien pays the citizen for the (nominal) marriage, meaning that both are criminals, and what I call Class D (for deception), in which the alien hoodwinks the citizen into marriage.

In both instances the alien wants to secure a green card out of the process. Class C is apparently a much larger group than Class D, according to experts on such things. Class C frauds can, after all, be organized by one or more middlemen on a mass scale; Class D is, and has to be, a one-on-one operation.

Within Class D there are two subcategories, D-1 the old fashioned, slow-acting way in which the alien persists with the marriage until the citizen spouse successfully files a petition to grant the alien a green card. This can take years, because the first step is for the citizen to ask for a conditional resident alien card for the alien spouse; once this is in hand, two years must pass before the citizen can ask USCIS to convert that document into the green card.

Then there is the quicker-acting Class D-2 method in which shortly after the marriage the alien charges the citizen with abuse, and files for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allows both women and men to make such claims. Such petitions can be filed without notifying the allegedly abusing spouse, as this USCIS document indicates.

How often do aliens file fraudulent claims that their citizen (or green card) spouses are abusing them, i.e., D-2 claims? As usual, USCIS statistical systems are of little help, because they do not publish approval/denial data in this area, all they furnish is approval/application receipt data, but therein lie some clues.

It looks like USCIS, unlike the way it treats most other claims for immigration benefits, is actually tougher on bad claims in this sector now than in the recent past.

Clue One: By definition, all successful fraudulent (D-2) claims are included in a larger population, all successful claims by alien spouses that their U.S. resident spouses had abused them. That larger population is reported each year by the government, under the typically soft terminology "spouses, adjustments, self-petitioning" to quote Table 7 of the 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

Here are the numbers in this immediate relative sub-category for the last three fiscal years (these are successful applications from abused spouses living in the United States, including both genuine claims, and undetected false ones):

  • 2010: 5,886
  • 2011: 4,470
  • 2012: 3,005

This is a relatively new part of the immigration law. The first notation of such adjustments appears in the 1998 Statistical Yearbook of the INS (there was just one that year).

The trend of these 2010-2012 data is remarkable in the face of total immigration numbers increasing all the time, and in view of the general tendency of USCIS to say "yes" to 90 percent or more of the benefit applications it handles.

Now there are several possible explanations for why the approvals in this narrow class have fallen so sharply: perhaps residents are being less abusive of their alien spouses, but the numbers above would represent a very drastic reduction in what would be (if it exists) a long-term trend; perhaps the number of abused and "abused" spouses who apply for these benefits is falling, though as we point out below, some other USCIS numbers do not suggest that; and finally; and most likely, perhaps USCIS adjudicators are being tougher on these matters than in previous years.

That would be out of character for USCIS, generally, but that seems to be the case, and if so, it is commendable.

Clue Two: As noted earlier, USCIS usually publishes limited data on its case decisions, showing applications filed and applications approved, but not showing denials. This is not helpful because applications not approved would include, besides those that are denied, those that are still pending or those that have been withdrawn. To further complicate matters, data on the number of applications and the number of approvals do not necessarily relate to the same time period, as among the approvals there are always applications filed in a previous year.

But you can be sure that if total approvals outnumber total receipts that the agency is not saying "no" to many of them. In the first three quarters of FY 2012, for example, there were 35,083 approvals of applications for asylee adjustment, but only 30,335 receipts of such applications, as can be seen in the first line of this USCIS tabulation.

In contrast to the surplus of approvals over applications in the asylee category, in the same dataset, we find, for the first three quarters of FY 2012, that the agency received 7,186 applications by "self-petitioning spouses" (i.e., those claiming abuse) as opposed to 2,463 approvals; that suggests that something like two-thirds of the applications were being denied, or, more precisely, not being approved.

Before moving to a case history, which provides a human perspective to these numbers, let me say again that Class D-2 cases, like this one, are much less numerous than the cash payment types of marriage fraud. Reading about marriage fraud cases in the press almost always involves a discussion of Class C cases.

Case History: The D-1 vs. D-2 taxonomy outlined above was brought to mind this past week by an unnamed citizen who called CIS. I have only heard his side of the story, not hers, nor the government's, but it does provide a non-statistical insight into these situations.

I have changed some non-essential details to preserve the parties' privacy, but the story, severely condensed, goes something like this:

A mature, male U.S. citizen, apparently a professional, met a 30-something alien woman in another land. They dated, she became pregnant, he filed a K-1 (nonimmigrant fiance) visa application for her, she came to the United States, they were married in the United States, and shortly thereafter she gave birth (to what he says DNA confirmed as his child). After that it was all downhill.

Shortly after the birth he discovered that she was in constant e-mail touch with her long-time lover in the homeland; there were (apparently) harsh words, and she left him and the baby. This set in motion two sets of legal actions; she applied under VAWA for a green card, saying he had mentally abused her; and he filed for divorce.

The two decision making processes came out quite differently. USCIS (apparently) granted her a green card, accepting her version of events. The divorce court, in a state I will not mention, sided with him, granting him custody of the child and ordering her to make child support payments. (As one who has been through one divorce and witnessed many others, the divorce court's decision in this case strikes me as an unusual one; women usually get custody and women rarely pay child support.)

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He would like to see her deported. She has remained in the United States, has brought in her boyfriend, and may, in the future, seek to secure a green card for him. The citizen says that she has not only lied to him and abandoned their baby, but has also filed false income tax forms. He says that neither USCIS nor ICE are interested in the matter.

Though I am not happy to say so, I suspect that the status will remain quo as it will be difficult to impossible for him to turn around the USCIS green card decision, short of a felony conviction on her part. Again, I do not have all the facts, but this seems to be the situation.

To return to a more general view of such things, the lady has apparently pulled off a D-2 instance of marriage fraud, in a case that seems unlikely to appear in anyone's marriage fraud statistics.