Monday, September 3, 2007

Criminal Penalties for Marriage Fraud -- 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c) and 18 U.S.C. § 1546

Marriage fraud has been prosecuted, inter alia, under 8 U.S.C. § 1325 and 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a). The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act of 1986 amended § 1325 by adding § 1325(c), which provides a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for any "individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws." Under 8 U.S.C. § 1151(b), "immediate relatives" of U.S. citizens, including spouses, who are otherwise qualified for admission as immigrants, must be admitted as such, without regard to other, ordinary numerical limitations.

The typical fact pattern in marriage fraud cases is that a U.S. citizen and an alien get married. They fulfill all state law requirements such as medical tests, licensing, and a ceremony. But the U.S. citizen is paid to marry the alien in order to entitle the alien to obtain status as a permanent resident of the United States; the parties do not intend to live together as man and wife. A legal issue arises where the parties tell the INS they are married, and they subjectively believe they are telling the truth because they have complied with state marriage requirements. The Supreme Court has ruled that the validity of their marriage under state law is immaterial to the issue of whether they defrauded INS. See Lutwak v. United States, 344 U.S. 604 (1953). Lutwak was followed in United States v. Yum, 776 F.2d 490 (4th Cir. 1985); Johl v. United States, 370 F.2d 174 (9th Cir.1966), and Chin Bick Wah v. United States, 245 F.2d 274 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 355 U.S. 870 (1957). But see, United States v. Lozano, 511 F.2d 1 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 850 (1975); United States v. Diogo, 320 F.2d 898 (2d Cir. 1963). But cf, United States v. Sarantos, 455 F.2d 877 (2d Cir. 1972).

There have been situations where a bona fide marriage turns sour but the alien induces the U.S. citizen spouse to maintain the marriage as a ruse only as long as necessary for the alien to obtain status as a permanent resident alien. There is a line of cases holding that the viability of the marriage, if initially valid, is not a proper concern of the INS. United States v. Qaisi, 779 F.2d 346 (6th Cir. 1985); Dabaghian v. Civilleti, 607 F.2d 868 (9th Cir. 1979), and cases cited therein. However, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986, 8 U.S.C. § 1186a, were designed, inter alia, to eliminate the Qaisi type loophole by establishing a two-year conditional status for alien spouses seeking permanent resident status, and requiring that an actual family unit still remain in existence at the end of the two year period.

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