New York Immigration-Related Marriage Fraud Case Raises Eyebrows

Published on May 29th, 2015

By Joe Guzzardi
May 29, 2015

An interesting case in New York involving marriage fraud has received little attention given that it has a terrorism angle that Attorney General Loretta Lynch ignored when she was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lynch served in New York from 1999-2001 and again from 2010-2015.

Liana Barrientos, 39, married ten different men, nine between 1999 and 2002. Some of her marriages came within days of each other. At one time, Barrientos was married to eight men concurrently. On her marriage licenses, Barrientos stated that she had never previously been married. Investigators suspect that Barrientos wed the foreign nationals to help them get United States citizenship. Barrientos admitted to “receiving money for her services” and acknowledged that she had never met several of her husbands before her wedding day. Seven husbands filed for permanent residency.

The grooms are from Georgia (3), Egypt (2), Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, and Czechoslovakia. The Department of Homeland Security has red-flagged five of the countries for terrorism—Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Georgia and Mali. Subsequent to a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation, the Pakistani national was deported in 2006.

New York security expert Manny Gonzales said that the serial marriages represent a huge breach of domestic safety. Noting that Barrientos married multiple times without intervention from federal authorities underlines the ease with which an al-Queda or ISIS plant could enter illegally, obtain permanent residency, and then plot, recruit and carry out an attack.  Gomez concluded that lax national security means “we have our work cut out for us.”

During her confirmation hearings, Lynch admitted that she supports President Obama’s executive action amnesty which should have sent a signal to Congress that on immigration and deportation, her sympathies were with aliens. Nevertheless, ten Senate Republicans voted for Lynch including Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch who called her “a top flight person.”

But Lynch wasn’t “top flight” enough to prosecute Barrientos’ marriage fraud to potential terrorists when it was brought to her New York office’s attention. What ultimately brought Barrientos down was when she and her niece walked through a subway station gate without paying the $2.75 fare. They were charged with theft of services and criminal trespass, misdemeanors. On the other hand, immigration-related marriage fraud carries up to $250,000 fines and jail sentences for both parties.

Marriage to an American citizen remains the most common path for foreign nationals to U.S. residency and eventual citizenship. More than 2.3 million aliens have gained lawful permanent resident status through marriage since 1998 and more than 25 percent of all green cards issued annually are to American citizens’ spouses. In past years, nearly twice as many green cards have been granted to citizens’ spouses than to all employment-based immigration categories combined. The number of green cards obtained based on marriage has more than doubled since 1985, and has quintupled since 1970. While not all are fraudulent, marriages between immigrants and Americans should be a DHS concern.

Marriage fraud perpetrated to gain legal status should be vigorously prosecuted, and convictions should include immediate deportation, substantial fines and lengthy jail sentences. Granted, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has limited personnel to carry out fraud investigations.  But when cases languish, as happened in the Lynch-Barrientos matter, fraudsters become emboldened and terrorists can take advantage of another simple avenue to enter and do harm.

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]

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