San Bernardino Puts Focus on Immigration-Through-Marriage, or Should

By David North on December 21, 2015

Let's step back and look at the immigration-by-marriage process – the one that led to, among other things, the slaughter in San Bernardino, where one of the shooters had come to the U.S. on a K-1 (fiancé) visa.

The first point to be made is that a huge proportion of legal immigration pours through the marital route, though more than 90 percent of the newly-arrived spouses and spouses-to-be do not use the K-1 visa. For example, in fiscal 2013, the last year for which we have statistics, about 245,000 of the year's roughly one million immigrants who arrived (or adjusted) were recorded as spouses of citizens or aliens. (This count excludes aliens arriving as married couples.)

Secondly, marriage is the only segment of the immigration law that allows a single resident of the U.S. – either citizen or green card holder – to nominate an alien for membership in our society without any other qualifications.

If an alien wants to come to the U.S. there are four main channels (other than the spousal and the totally frivolous diversity lottery route):

  • work
  • money
  • family
  • refugee/asylum/victim status

In each instance there are built-in gatekeeping mechanisms that seek to make sure that various qualifying factors are in place:

  • work – known skills (except in a few instances) and a known relationship
    with an employer (again with a few high-talent exceptions)
  • money – at least $500,000 to invest in the U.S. (via EB-5)
  • family – a demonstrable, certifiable blood relationship (except for spouses)
  • refugee/asylum/victim status – the applicant has to show, either in a formalized administrative proceeding or a court setting, that he or she is, in fact, qualified for the one of these specialized visas.

In contrast, to these more demanding screening processes we have the immigration-via-marriage route in which the only real gatekeeper is the spouse or would-be spouse, a gatekeeper who might well be a criminal or a terrorist, though in most cases is not.

If citizen Harry wants to marry alien Sally, or citizen Sally wants to marry alien Harry, that's all that is needed for the visa, except a couple of once-over-lightly governmental procedures. That is why those procedures should be rigorous, as they are not. As we noted in an earlier posting, a startling 99.7 percent of the applications for K-1 visas in 2014 were approved overseas.

What is happening, post-San Bernardino, regarding marriage visas? There are two threads, one potentially more useful than the other, and both, so far, focused on K-1 visas.

Congress. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), has obtained and examined Tashfeen Malik's immigration file. A major problem was identified – it was not clear from the application that Malik and her husband-to-be had actually met each other in the prior two years, which is one of the requirements of K-1 visas, a provision designed to discourage the marriage of two strangers.

What's worse, the problem had been noted by an official but the visa was issued anyway.

Other, earlier reports said that she had lied about her residence address.

Malik perhaps could have overcome both problems, but she did not have to do so. Perhaps her visa would have been denied if the officer (who better be looking for another career) had persisted.

According to the Washington Post:

Goodlatte called immigration officials' work on Malik's application "unacceptable" and has previously said that his committee is preparing to introduce a bill that would revamp visa security. The bill would call for visa applicants and their sponsors to go through in-person interviews as part of their application process. It would also require that officials review applicants' employment and education histories as well as public postings on social networks.

Let's hope that the bill will deal with more than K-1 visas, and that the committee will push for a more comprehensive overhaul of visa-issuances generally, or at least in the marriage-creating categories that cause fully one-quarter of our legal immigration.

Administration. Meanwhile, the Government has decided to review the K-1 process and has set up a DHS-State task force to do so. Rather than looking at the broader problem, the administration is apparently looking only at the tiny K-1 part of it. (The chances that the next alien to gun down U.S. residents will have entered on a K-1 visa are slim.)

What is needed is a public recognition that the current systems have failed us, and they will continue to fail us until we acknowledge that our current screening systems are inadequate and that we are prepared to face the grim fact that changing these things will cause pain.

By this I mean the utilization of more officers in these visa reviews at considerable expense, not only in money but in delays in the process. Further, this will probably mean the use of more tax money as well as higher fees for immigrants and their U.S. sponsors, and, to be blunt about it, a bit more government than we have now.

In a better world the government would quietly devise a better system of controls and add a lot of visa-processing staff to the embassies in nations which have sent us terrorists, while here at home Donald Trump would stop loudly calling for the denial of admission for all non-citizen Muslims.

But then, we do not live in that better world.