21 people were arrested in connection to an alleged marriage fraud ring in Miami, Florida that sought to pair illegal immigrants with American spouses for pay. This was done in an effort to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants. The practice is common in Florida.
According to the indictment, Larisa De Lima was the leader of the operation and allegedly worked with others to recruit legal residents and citizens to be a part of these false marriages. The sham included counterfeit marriage licenses that were used to gain legal American citizenship for the illegal aliens. De Lima allegedly coached citizen participants for interviews with immigration officials so they would be prepared for the line of questioning. In at least three cases, participating parties were paid $5,000 for their involvement in the scam.
This is a common scam used to gain citizenship for illegal immigrants. In April of 2015, 27 people were arrested for a similar marriage fraud scheme in South Florida. This case has many similarities to the De Lima scam, recruiters were used to find willing citizens and paid them to enter into fallacious marriages with illegal immigrants. The leaders of the 2015 ring also charged immigrants a chunk of change for the service. The practice seems to have very little to do with philanthropic feelings towards disenfranchised immigrants, and much more to do with the thousands of dollars they are willing to pay for these fraudulent marriages. The cost of these shams has reportedly been as high as $10,000.
One element often driving these frauds is fear of mass-deportation as discussed by President Donald Trump, though he has since admitted that forced deportation of 12 million people is, at the very least, impractical. In light of President Trump’s gung-ho attitude towards strengthening the border and immigration laws in general, many people have taken things into their own hands to attain citizenship.
These frauds don’t end at falsified marriage certificates. Many couples go to great lengths to create a false narrative of their relationship. They take fake vacation photos, live in houses together, and devise fictional stories to tell immigration officials who give exhaustive interviews. They cannot simply say they are married and end it there, they must provide evidence that their marriage is legitimate. They are questioned about friends and family and the particulars of their wedding day. However, despite the intensity and thoroughness of immigration interviews, thousands have participated in these schemes to achieve citizenship. It is likely that many are successful and are never caught.
A Cuban woman living in Florida was indicted last year for being paid to participate in 10 incidents of marriage fraud. According to authorities, the woman, Yosandra Piedra Vasquez “married” seven men in Florida to help them receive green cards, as well as three men in Georgia between 2002 and 2012. Vasquez and her partner-in crime Yoel de Moya Lozada were both charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. as well as conspiracy to encourage and induce an alien to live in the U.S. illegally. Lozada worked as a recruiter and found hopeful immigrants who would pay to enter into marriages with Vasquez.
Officials have stated that immigrants often prefer to commit marriage fraud with Cubans due to the special privileges granted to them under the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants Cuban’s citizenship in the United States after a year of living in the country. Another benefit of the CAA is that those who marry Cuban’s are virtually granted permanent residence in the U.S. instantly.
Another case of marriage fraud came up this year in South Carolina (though it also involved Floridians) involving seven individuals who were arrested for the crime. The American suspects were paid a total of over $20,000 for the marriages.
This seemingly commonplace occurrence calls into question policies regarding marriages to immigrants. Surely, the spouse of a U.S. citizen should be granted citizenship, however, it seems the infrastructure is full of vulnerabilities that allow thousands of people to enter this country illegally and become legal citizens. Though stories are told of the long and stringent interviews given to those seeking a green card by way of marriage, it appears the system is still easily abused, and many U.S. citizens are happy to abuse it for the right price.