Marriages of Convenience to Gain U.S. Residency Target of Senators

Times Staff Writer

Two senators Wednesday proposed a stronger federal attack on fraudulent marriages in which aliens take American spouses to evade federal immigration laws and live in the United States.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and supported by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), which is to be considered today by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, would force immigrant spouses to stay married to a U.S. citizen for two years before applying to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for permanent residency. There is no statutory waiting period now.

Includes Prison Term

The proposal is one of several amendments to pending legislation announced Wednesday by Simon and endorsed by Simpson, who is chairman of the subcommittee on immigration and refugee policy. Simon's bill, which is similar to a measure expected to be considered next week by a House Judiciary subcommittee, also creates a maximum five-year prison term and $250,000 fine for spouses or marriage brokers convicted of marriage fraud.

INS officials estimate that more than 111,000 aliens married U.S. citizens in 1984 and that the number for 1985 will probably rise to 120,000. About 30% of them are believed to be marriages of convenience but the INS has difficulty proving fraud because it must prove an alien's criminal intent at the time of application for permanent residency.

"They push back people who want to come in and should be coming in," Simon said of fraudulent marriages, pointing to long waiting lists for legal immigration. The waiting period for Mexico is nine years.

Sham Marriages

Marriage fraud extends across the country and is concentrated in larger urban areas, such as Miami, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, where brokers arrange sham marriages en masse, an INS spokesman said.

An INS source confirmed that the service is investigating the possible illegal importation of Korean women by American servicemen. The source would not say how many women are suspected of marrying the soldiers overseas who then bring them into the United States to work as prostitutes as the price of their U.S. residency. But at the Simon press conference, Simpson said that the number could be in the thousands.

Officials say that many sham marriages are perpetrated by U.S. citizens in need of money and by suave foreigners who con and cajole their way to America.

Meets Criticism

But the proposals announced Wednesday also met criticism.

Jules Coven, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn., said that the burden the proposals would lay on honest immigrant marriages is too great. "Whatever they're doing is (illegal under) the law now, so this is just going to make it more difficult for people who marry legally," he said.

And Linda Emdadi, 37, of northern Virginia, said the proposals fail to protect Americans who are duped by aliens seeking permanent residency. The Iranian man who wooed her in 1982 had a sudden change of heart after the couple were married, did not want his name on the couple's lease or in a joint checking account, among other things, she told The Times in a telephone interview. After less than a year of marriage, they separated.

"This (proposal by Simon) is fine for marriages they can prove were fraudulent," Emdadi said of the Simon bill, "but it doesn't do anything for the American citizen who unknowingly enters into a (fraudulent) marriage."

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