By Onderi M. Dennis
After entering the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor in 2008, Getrude* was ambivalent about overstaying her B-2 visa (for persons traveling to United States temporarily for tourism, pleasure or visiting). She chanced upon a long-lost homie after a church service in Maryland, and the upshot of their encounter was that she would stay and try to circumvent immigration laws by marrying an American, who would later file for permanent resident status for her.
“It was a long shot, but I thought it was worth risking,” she says.
They got some leads to a one Mr. Delmar, who would later hook her up with a U.S. citizen working as an administrative assistant with a milk production company in Houston. He would also coach the “couple” how to appear legitimate lest they be busted by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: An Open Letter to Africans Living in the Diaspora
“I remember we paid $1,000 upfront, but I later paid my so-called spouse a similar amount immediately after the pretend wedding ceremony,” Getrude recounts.
She was further instructed to pay her “spouse” $220 every month henceforth until the until the visa was processed. She happily settled down in Houston, but she is now a troubled woman. She has been in Kenya for two weeks now, but she is apprehensive about going back to the U.S. after learning about the sentence against Tierra Ofield.
Doing it the Wrong Way, Busted
Getrude is unsettled by the news that Mr. Delmar was arraigned in a Kansas federal court three months ago whereby he pleaded guilty to masterminding a brazen marriage fraud conspiracy. She is sure that her fake marriage is among the 30 to 40 that Mr. Delmar confessed to have facilitated, and she’s keeping her fingers crossed for HIS agents to overlook her case – in case they haven’t. This is a narrative that hundreds of African immigrants now living in the U.S. identify with, but very few nationals have mastered it more than Kenyans, Nigerians, and Ghanaians.
Given that the current U.S. immigration laws make it nearly impossible for immigrants in the country illegally to obtain legal documents, fake marriages with U.S. citizen have granted many Africans quick tickets to a lifetime dream: citizenship. The masterminds help the immigrants complete the required documents before submitting them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for approval of U.S. permanent resident status. In most cases, the spouses are “married” in a pretend wedding ceremony after which they take several staged photographs of themselves to deceive the authorities that they are a legitimate couple. The arrangers then inculcate the spouses with relevant answers to virtually all questions likely to be posed by immigration inspectors with regard to the legitimacy of their marriage. The masterminds have become even cleverer and made this a specialty that they even help the couple assemble all the paperwork required to “prove” that they have been in a long-term relationship. The couple is also instructed to obtain a joint insurance cover, open a joint bank account, and introduce the immigrant’s name on bills.
Some of the Notable Cases
- The latest marriage fraud scheme landed Tierra Ofield, a 24-year-old Kansas City resident, in prison for entering into a sham marriage with Kenyan immigrant.
- In April 2014, Margaret Kimani of Worcester, Massachusetts, was arrested for fraudulently marrying a U.S. citizen after overstaying her visitor’s visa. She was convicted alongside other Kenyans, Alfonso Ongaga, Andrew Mokoro, Herman Ogoti, and Rebmann Ongaga.
- In 2009, Ibraheem Adegoke Buraimoh, a Nigerian, and Ibraheem Adeneye, a Nigerian-born naturalized U.S. citizen were indicted for engaging in marriage fraud.
- In December 2013, Alake “Terry” Ilegbameh, a 46-year-old resident of Los Angeles, was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy to circumvent the U.S. immigration laws by arranging sham marriages between Nigerians and U.S. citizens.
- In May 2015, Nathan Michael pleaded guilty to one count of marriage fraud after being arrested alongside five other Nigerian nationals.
- In September 2015, five Houston residents were arrested and charged in connection with a marriage fraud ring involving arranged staged marriages between Nigerian immigrants and U.S. citizens.
- Last month, a 41-year-old Nigerian woman, Euphemia Chinyeaka Okeke, was convicted of obtaining citizenship through a sham marriage to a Houston man.
How Fake Couples are Busted
Some of these marriages are busted through undercover investigation. Other than that, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) thoroughly scrutinizes all marriages in which a U.S. citizen sponsors noncitizen to be approved for an immigrant visa or green card. However, if the application is made from oversea, then it is the responsibility of the U.S. State Department to examine the couple’s documents through its consulate. Nonetheless, here are some of the obvious red flags that raise suspicion of fraud:
- If the immigrant hails from a country notorious for immigration fraud
- Failure to proof intimacy, in-depth knowledge of each other, or a life shared together by the spouses
- Different physical addresses after marriage
- Vast difference between the spouses’ levels of education
- Vast difference between the spouses’ ages
- Vast differences between the spouses’ religious orientations and cultural backgrounds
- Conspicuous language barrier
Several fake marriages involving nationals from Asia and Europe have been busted in the past – for example during “Operation Honeymoon’s Over” and “Operation Knot So Fast” – but Kenyans, Nigerians, and Ghanaians are increasingly becoming notorious in the game. Apparently, there are so many reasons to want to obtain the U.S. citizenship – either legally or otherwise. After all, the end justifies the means, but it all comes at a cost. For example, under federal statutes, the arrangers, like Mr. Delmar, are subject to a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison without parole.