During the 25 years I taught English as a Second Language in the California public school system, I was approached three times by an intermediary to ask if I would be willing to marry an illegal immigrant. I was offered the standard deal: about $5,000 up front and another $5,000 after the nuptials which would put my bride on the path to legal status. Welcome to the world of illegal immigration!
Needless to say, I turned the proposal down flat. But such unlawful unions are, if not common, not out of the ordinary either. One local American citizen had a notorious reputation of being readily available for sham marriages in exchange for cash.
Crocodile Tears: Oregon Governor’s fiancée admits to marriage fraud.
Through diligent investigative journalism, Portland’s Willamette Weekly discovered that in 1997 Oregon’s first lady accepted $5,000 and married an Ethiopian national identified as Abraham B. Abraham to allow him to remain in the United States. When she entered into the loveless marriage, Cylvia Hayes was 30 and a twice-divorced Evergreen State College student. (Technical note: Hayes is not married to Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber, but since they have been partners for ten years, he publicly refers to her as “Oregon’s first lady.”)
Marriage fraud, a felony that carries a maximum $250,000 fine and possible five-year jail sentence for the foreign national and the U.S. citizen, is one of the most common yet under-publicized methods in which aliens gain permanent residency. In April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement began a campaign to raise awareness among Americans about the consequences of sham marriages which officials say is “neither a trivial nor a victimless crime” that “can have grave consequences.”
Since the statute of limitations for green card fraud is five years, Hayes won’t face civil or criminal penalties. The scandal is also unlikely to cost incumbent Kitzhaber his gubernatorial office. He comfortably leads Republican challenger Dennis Richardson. Abraham gets off too. Even if his whereabouts were known, the Department of Homeland Security rarely revokes permanent resident status especially if the individual has become a citizen.
A marriage-based immigration felony wherein the two principals skate encourages more of the same. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement estimates that between 20 and 33 percent of marriages between immigrants and U.S. citizens are fraudulent.