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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Archive for September, 2010

Luke Angel – an immigration hoax in the making?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Luke Angel, a 17-year old British teen, after watching a television program on 9/11, and while “drunk and high,” apparently sent an email full of curses and threats to President Obama.  The result:  the FBI called his local police department, who then sent an officer to visit his home to question him, take his photo, and inform him that he was banned for life from ever entering the U.S.

Reactions to the story were mostly scornful over the pettiness of banning the teen, defense of this seeming over-reaction as a necessary evil to combating terrorism and threats to national security, and noises about infringement of free speech.

One website, however, raised an even more interesting angle.  Did the FBI really call a local police department in England over one rant email, and did the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) really inform this 17-year old that he’s banned for life from the U.S.?  U.S. immigration authorities rarely give straight answers to questions such as, “Why am I being denied entry to the U.S. when all my paperwork is in order?” It’s hard enough to even figure out if you are permanently banned from the U.S., much less why.  DHS had no comment on this case, saying that, “Due to privacy laws, US Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases.”

But to believe that someone in DHS put this teen on some sort of “no-entry” list, and then promptly told his local police to inform him of this fact, just isn’t in keeping with standard DHS process. The teen could have enlisted the services of an immigration lawyer, but considering the circumstances it seems that effort would have been fruitless. So, while this story is great at painting the U.S. as an unreasonable, bullying bureaucracy with nothing better to do than hassle a foreign teen over his drunken rant, it simply doesn’t smell right.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

“Operation Morning Glory” — Marriage fraud in Salt Lake City

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

In August 2006, during a sting dubbed “Operation Morning Glory,” federal immigration agents raided the homes and businesses of dozens of Vietnamese-Americans suspected of involvement in a large-scale marriage visa fraud ring.  During that sweep, the feds netted 24 to 31 Vietnamese-Americans in and around Salt Lake City, Utah, who had recruited Utahns to enter into fake marriages with Vietnamese men and women to bring them to the United States under the marriage visa laws.

The ringleaders paid Utahns anywhere from $500 to $10,000, plus travel expenses, to go to Vietnam, participate in a fake engagement or wedding with the Vietnamese national being sponsored as the ‘fiance(e),’ take tons of photos as a couple with the Vietnamese national in different outfits in different locations to make it look like the couple had spent a lot of time together, and sign-off on the paperwork to petition for the Vietnamese national to immigrate to the United States based on the fake marriage.  Vietnamese nationals paid up to $30,000 for this service.  Anywhere from 80 to 100 fake marriages were arranged by this ring over its five-year run.

According to a 2008 U.S. Department of State report, a total of 90 individuals were successfully prosecuted in conjunction with the visa fraud ring, which is one of the biggest uncovered in immigration enforcement history.  The 90 individuals prosecuted makes it sound like both the ring organizers and the recruited Utahns were prosecuted, as the original sweep only netted 24 Vietnamese-American organizers.  Possible sentences for the charges ranged from 5 years for marriage fraud to 10 years for alien smuggling.  The fraudulently-sponsored spouses are, of course, subject to deportation for immigration fraud. They’ll need the help of the best immigration lawyers after committing such a crime.

The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper, led its reporting on the operation with this statement:  “On the crowded streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, advertisements selling U.S. marriage visas are as common as ads for produce at grocery stores, according to federal agents.” Photographers advertising ‘wedding’ packages are also quite common in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi).  These packages usually include a few days during which the photographer takes pictures of the the happy couple in rented wedding attire, at a restaurant with rented ‘wedding guests,’ and other evidence of a happy ‘courtship.’  U.S. immigration authorities are well aware of this practice, and, needless to say, it does nothing to help real couples obtain marriage visas.

While it may seem that faking out U.S. immigration authorities is just a matter of learning what is needed to convince a consular officer to issue a fiance(e) visa and/or to convince a USCIS officer that two strangers are a happily married couple, being caught in immigration fraud means real jail time for U.S. citizens and deportation (and probably being barred from returning to the U.S. for a very long time or forever) for non-citizens.  The policy behind family-based immigration laws is to reunite actual family members.  These laws are abused when criminals decide to use them to bring anyone over who can afford to pay.  Suspicious consular officers or immigration officers then demand more proof from Vietnamese petitioners and make them jump through more hoops to get the same benefit as every other type of petitioner.  As an example of the visa refusal rate for Vietnamese nationals, in 2009 the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City refused 42.3% of all B visa applications.  The bottom line is that immigration fraud, whether marriage fraud or otherwise, makes it even harder for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents of Vietnamese ethnicity to reunite with their real family members because it makes immigration officers extra suspicious of Vietnamese cases.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates