Restrictionist CIS Twists Facts on “Marriage Fraud”

Written by on December 3, 2008 in Immigration 101 with 12 Comments

Photo by videoplacebo.

In a report released on December 2, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) takes aim at what it views as an under-appreciated threat to U.S. national security and the integrity of the U.S. immigration system: the alleged ease with which foreigners married to U.S. citizens can become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) and receive “green cards.”  CIS scrapes the bottom of the intellectual barrel in terms of relying upon anecdote rather than evidence to derisively claim that “if small-time con artists and Third-World gold-diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can (and have done) the same.” Even the title of the report, “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name,” suggests that it is intended more as mockery rather than a substantive analysis of immigration policy.

Any evidence of marriage fraud should be quickly addressed. However, the CIS report itself acknowledges that “there is no way of knowing” just how prevalent the problem actually is, and that most marriages “between Americans and foreign nationals are legitimate.”  Nevertheless, CIS somehow knows, though can not prove, that fraudulent marriage petitions are “prevalent among international terrorists, including members of Al-Qaeda,” and that “a substantial number” of undocumented immigrants ordered to leave the United States evade deportation through sham marriages.  The report correctly notes that marriage fraud is a tactic sometimes used by human traffickers to bring foreign women into the United States, where they are subject to sexual exploitation.  But, remarkably, none of the policy recommendations outlined in the report deal with human trafficking.  Likewise, the report argues-with good reason-that the presence of fraudulent marriage petitions in the immigration bureaucracy can add to the wait times experienced by legitimate petitioners; yet no backlog-reduction measures are proposed.

If CIS is sincere in claiming they want to “implement any kind of meaningful immigration reform in the United States,” as the report states, then perhaps the focus should be on the systemic flaws in the U.S. immigration system for which there is hard data that can serve as the basis for rational policies.  For instance, in terms of family-based immigration (of which marriage-based petitions are simply one component), processing delays and application backlogs are enormous, well documented, and deserving of policy proposals far more comprehensive than the efforts proposed by CIS to reduce the unknown incidence of marriage fraud.

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  • Shaun

    Actually, nine of the 9/11 terrorists gained LPR status from sham marriages. Read the 9/11 report. What facts are they twisting? You don’t present any.

  • As the 9/11 report emphasized, the ability of the hijackers to legally enter the United States at all stemmed in large part from the failure of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to share with each other the information they had, and to include this information on the appropriate watch lists. The 9/11 terrorists weren’t flagged when they applied for visas or first arrived in the United States due to intelligence failures, not the inadequacies of U.S. immigration policy.

    As for the CIS report, it presents no hard data, so – instead – it relies on anecdotes and insults to make its point, which is not a sound basis for rational and effective decisions about something as important and complicated as immigration reform.

  • Don McAninch

    In this time of high unemployment– and overpopulation– it is necessary to stop immigration. Legal and illegal immigration should be reduced to zero.

  • Bryan

    “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.” – 9/11 Report

    Below is an exerpt from a GAO report on diversity visas ( In the footnotes, it explains that the marriage fraud was not limited to DV visas. There’s much more to it than what I copied. Don’t know if it’s in the CIS report, but since you’re looking for supporting facts…

    “At some posts, verifying the legitimacy of these new relationships did not pose a problem. However, at 5 of the 11 posts we reviewed—Accra, Addis Ababa, Dhaka, Lagos, and Warsaw—consular officers reported that verifying these relationships, referred to as “pop-ups,” was a major fraud challenge. Consular officers in Accra and Addis Ababa said that relationship fraud was their biggest fraud challenge in DV processing. In Addis Ababa, for example, marrying a DV lottery winner in an attempt to obtain an immigrant visa has become so common that the term “DV marriage” has entered the local lexicon. Officers in Accra estimated that up to 50 percent of DV adjudications there involve a “pop-up” spouse; officers in Addis Ababa said that the percentage of sham DV marriages at their post could be as high as 90 percent and a cable from the post stated that DV-related marriage fraud was “rampant.”

  • B. Sabakovic

    There is no such thing as ‘overpopulation’ except in the mind of race supremacists. FACT: One American in three is murdered in utero every year. That makes for 25 million missing workers who would have been born between 1973 and 1992….and another 25 who would be in school now. These missing workers have to come from somewhere, so they come from the rest of the world. Those who think that immigration must be dropped to zero must think that we aren’t killing enough people as it is.

  • B. Sabakovic

    P.S. That picture is hideous.

  • Without some hard data on the degree to which marriage fraud is a systemic problem throughout the entire immigration system (as opposed to just the relatively small DV system), there is no way of knowing if or how measures designed to reduce it should or could serve as a central component of immigration reform. You can’t effectively address a problem without first knowing how big of a problem it is – especially when it comes to something as complex as comprehensive immigration reform.

    More importantly, portraying immigrant marriage fraud as an inherent threat to national security, as CIS does, is misleading. If intelligence and law-enforcement agencies don’t flag a dangerous individual as a threat in the first place, that person’s name won’t appear on watch lists regardless of whether the person is filing a marriage petition or applying for a tourist visa. It is the gathering of intelligence on, and the watch-listing of, the person that is essential, not the kind of immigration petition or visa application the person files.

  • Bryan

    As I said regarding the DV visa quote: “In the footnotes, it explains that the marriage fraud was NOT LIMITED to DV visas.” The link is still there if you’d like to check.

    But, fair enough, I agree the government should have better reporting on the subject. But for now, how about using what we have?

    “In fiscal year 2000, INS’s district investigative units opened approximately 4,000 cases involving fraud, almost half of which involved marriage fraud.” (

    “Further, a review of immediate-relative petitions identified 25,000 potential marriage fraud cases.” (

    Granted it’s a little dated, but you know how good Gov’t reporting is. Still, nearly HALF of fraud investigations in 2000 were for marriage fraud. And those were only the cases they investigated. Remember, each “case” can involve multiple fraudulent marriages.

    Additionally, as to your point of backlogs in your main article, “CIS officials in three cities told us that ICE’s lack of responsiveness to some CIS referrals for benefit fraud investigations [which includes marriage fraud] hindered their ability to meet their district and bureau goals for reducing the backlog of applications.” (

    Also, there’s a 2006 GAO report ( Out of 20,000 applications rejected by USCIS solely for fraud, 14% were for sham marriage petitions. Those are the ones who didn’t make it though the application process (800,000 more are rejected for other reasons though it is expected that many are fraudulent). “In addition, these benefit types were selected because the 9/11 Commission Report identified marriage fraud as a major target of terrorists aimed at embedding themselves in the United States,…”

    The terror references were a very small part of the CIS report. Mostly it had to do with the kinds of marriage fraud and what to do with it. But on the terrorism, as a user said above, marriage fraud was used by the 9/11 terrorists to stay fraudulently. The point is, terrorist watch lists or no, “…according to the 9/11 Commission, up to 15 of the hijackers could have been intercepted or deported through more diligent enforcement of immigration laws (”

    To review, according to the DV report, the State Dept officials believe marriage fraud is a problem. According to the 2006 report, USCIS catches sham marriages. According to the 2002 report, ICE catches sham marriages. I’d call that a systemic problem.

    Again, terror didn’t seem to be CIS’s main point. Even ignoring that, you can’t say that marriage fraud is not is not a factor in fraud. If you want to ignore the above information without stats quashing it, then you have tunnel vision. Unless you can find stats agreeing with you, from a reliable source. Can you?

    This is my main problem with your article. You blast the CIS report for being conjecture. But then offer no supporting facts for your point of view. Hypocrisy.

  • Laraine Ryan

    There was no marriage fraud involved with any of the terrorists. They had all entered as nonimmigrants and made no attempt to become permanent residents.

  • Brenda

    Here’s a first hand account of State Dept. so called ‘marriage fraud’ identification. My marriage to my husband who was the father of our then 12 year old daughter was accused of being fraud in the processing of an immigrant visa. Without so much as a word of suspicion to us, our properly filed and completely legitimate approved spouse petition was unceremoniously declared to be fraud and returned without issuing a visa.

    Any fool could see that our relationship was legitimate, and if they had simply, at least, followed the law and their own procedures and told us of their suspicions and requested further evidence of our relationship, we would happily have obliged. Instead, they rejected us without any prior notification and simply added us to the statisics of another fraud marriage. It took us 4 years (after already taking nearly 2 years to get that far in the system) to overcome the accusation and reunited our family. I know of many, many, many other legitimate couples in similar circumstances.

    Don’t believe their statistics for marriage fraud, they are trumped up by overzealous CO’s who can’t tell fraud from their arse.

  • Chris

    If we are luckly 1 out of every 5,000. reports of marriage fraud to DHS/I.C.E. from a U.S. Citizen, is reviewed, with these odds, Osama might have a store in a slum selling cigs for food stamps. Reporting system sucks, no accountability, victim is unable to obtain any kind of status from DHS/ICE..nice going U.S. hush,,,,and it will just go away….

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