U.S. Authorities Break Up Fraudulent Marriage-Immigration Scheme

Washington – A three-year law enforcement operation has netted 19 arrests and caused the dismantling of an immigration and marriage fraud scheme in the greater Washington metropolitan area, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Nine of the individuals charged September 7 are alleged to have served as agents arranging marriages between noncitizens seeking immigration benefits and U.S. citizens willing to enter into fraudulent marriages for money.

Ten defendants are aliens alleged to have entered into sham marriages to gain legal status in the United States or avoid potential removal from the country. Others charged in the case are U.S. citizens suspected of exchanging marriage vows with strangers for money.

“U.S. citizenship is precious, and, for those who come to our country from abroad, must be earned and not purchased,” said U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the Eastern District of Virginia in a joint press statement with ICE.

Law enforcement agencies from local jurisdictions joined federal counterparts in investigating the case and identifying suspects.

“Alert employees in the Arlington Clerk’s Office noticed a pattern of suspicious marriages,” said Arlington County, Virginia, Police Chief M. Douglas Scott. “They brought it to our attention and we began a fraud investigation. Detectives in our Vice Control Section uncovered evidence of a conspiracy and then worked closely with our federal partners to bring the suspects involved to justice.”

Noncitizens hoping to set up sham marriages would pay fees ranging from $2,500 to $6,000, authorities say. The would-be spouse could receive about $500 of that on the day of the marriage and about $300 per month from the alien for an ongoing period.

Perpetrators of the scheme coach those involved in how to deceive authorities about the legitimacy of the marriage, urging them to memorize names, experiences and habits of the other person. False documents were used to demonstrate that a couple shared a home.

"Immigration and benefit fraud is not simply a nuisance crime, it poses a serious security vulnerability and contributes to a host of other types of crimes, including identity theft and financial fraud," said William Reid, assistant director of investigations for ICE.

"The goal of the task force,” he added, “is to identify, and dismantle the criminal organizations behind these highly lucrative schemes, and to let the perpetrators know that U.S. citizenship is not for sale.”


The case comes at a time when the nation is analyzing policies and practices in immigration against the backdrop of security concerns raised by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Shortly after those events, the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security initiated a series of new policies and requirements to screen more carefully foreigners entering the country.

With a policy known as “secure borders, open doors,” the U.S. agencies worked to institute policies that would welcome legitimate business, academic and tourist travelers.

At the same time, border procedures were strengthened to ensure that people intending to do the United States harm would be apprehended at the borders.

Over the same period, the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States in search of economic opportunity was growing steadily. Their total numbers, though unknown, are estimated to be 10 million to 12 million.

Early in 2006, President Bush proposed immigration law reform, urging congressional approval of a guest-worker policy for immigrants that also would draw a path toward eventual citizenship.

The U.S. Senate approved a plan consistent with the administration’s proposal, but the House of Representatives insisted on an approach that emphasizes prosecution of illegal immigrants and stronger border measures to prevent the entry of illegals.

The lawmakers returned to Washington in September from an August recess with significant differences on this issue and little time to resolve them. The nation is holding elections in early November, and Congress traditionally has a brief autumnal session to allow members to return to their home districts to campaign. Congressional observers say the immigration reform issue likely will not be taken up in the time available.

For additional information on U.S. policy, see Immigration Reform.