Oregon's First Lady Admits to Green-Card Marriage Fraud
Hayes admitted wrongdoing but claimed in her statement to the Oregonian on the matter that she "was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States." And indeed, according to press reports, Abraham got his degree. But I think Hayes is trying to take advantage of how ill-informed most Americans are about U.S. immigration law here. Foreigners do not need a green card in order to study in the United States, all they need is a student visa, and so the notion that she came to the rescue to give him a chance to study is dubious.
The Oregonian concludes that Hayes likely won't face criminal or civil penalties, as the statue of limitations for entering into a green card marriage is five years. Abraham, on the other hand, could have his legal status revoked (it is not clear if he is a green card holder or a U.S. citizen now). I'm betting that this will not happen. As I wrote in my 2008 Backgrounder on green card marriages, once someone gains legal status, especially citizenship, DHS very rarely revokes it barring highly unusual circumstances, i.e. the person is a terrorist or has committed other very serious crimes.
If an alternative weekly newspaper in Portland can easily detect a fraudulent relationship many years after it happened, why couldn't DHS have sniffed it out at the time? I outlined all the reasons in the Backgrounder mentioned above, but, in a nutshell, it's a lot easier for someone sitting in a cubicle to rubber stamp immigration petitions than to investigate them. DHS doesn't have the manpower to thoroughly investigate the thousands of marriages Americans conduct with foreign nationals each year and it is hard and labor-intensive to prove that two people don't love each other.
Based on my experience as a consular officer, I think that green card marriage is the most common scam employed by foreign nationals who arrive in the United States on a tourist visa and don't want to go home. Until we devote more resources to investigating suspicious petitions and require couples to appear in person to face questions when initiating the paperwork, the problem will persist.
How will voters in Oregon judge Kitzhaber in November? The Willamette Week also disclosed this week that Hayes's consulting firm might have benefited from her role as first lady. The newspaper concluded that she is the most influential first lady in the state's history. But Kitzhaber is facing a conservative opponent, Dennis Richardson, who probably has little chance of winning in this blue state. If nothing else, the Hayes case shines a spotlight on a problem that is far more pervasive than most people realize.