Till Fraud Do Us Part: An Analysis of Marriage Fraud Investigations

– Executive Summary

Immigration fraud in the United States refers to deceptive practices and fraudulent schemes employed by individuals or organizations to manipulate the immigration system for personal gain.[1] It encompasses a wide range of fraudulent activities, including document forgery, visa application misrepresentation, sham marriages, fake job offers, and identity theft. Immigration fraud not only undermines the integrity of the immigration system but also poses significant risks to national security, public safety, and economic stability. It exploits vulnerable individuals seeking legal immigration pathways and disrupts the fair and orderly process of immigration. Detecting and addressing immigration fraud are crucial for ensuring the integrity of the immigration system, protecting genuine applicants, and maintaining the security and well-being of the nation as a whole.

Marriage fraud poses a significant threat to the integrity of the immigration system in the United States. When individuals engage in fraudulent marriages to obtain immigration benefits, they manipulate and exploit a process designed to facilitate genuine relationships and family reunification. This crime undermines the trust and credibility of the system, as it allows individuals to bypass the rigorous screening and vetting procedures in place to protect national security and public welfare. Marriage fraud also creates an uneven playing field for legitimate applicants who diligently follow the rules and wait their turn to enter the country lawfully. Moreover, it places an undue burden on immigration authorities and resources, diverting valuable time and attention away from legitimate cases. By eroding the integrity of the immigration system, marriage fraud weakens public confidence, compromises the fairness of the process, and undermines the overarching goals of immigration policy.[2] Efforts to detect, prevent, and prosecute marriage fraud are crucial to safeguarding the integrity of the immigration system and ensuring that it serves its intended purpose of promoting lawful immigration and national interests.

The Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) set out to preserve the nation’s lawful immigration system by “combat[ing] fraud, detect[ing] national security and public safety threats, and maximiz[ing] law enforcement and Intelligence Community partnerships.”[3] Detecting and deterring immigration fraud form one of the directorate’s primary mission-critical functions. However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has scrutinized FDNS’s ability to manage and assess fraud risks, noting several barriers to immigration fraud investigation and deterrence.[4] For example, FDNS has found that 41–49 percent of completed benefit fraud cases concerned marriage-based fraud—the most common scheme to defraud the system—according to the GAO.[5] Marriage-based immigration presents significant fraud, national security, and public safety concerns that must be investigated by FDNS.

Effective investigation and enforcement play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law, maintaining social order, and ensuring justice.[6] Whether conducted by law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, or internal compliance teams, investigations and enforcement activities must rest on solid foundations to achieve their intended outcomes. This analysis explores the essential foundations that underpin effective investigation and enforcement. By examining the various aspects of marriage fraud visas, this thesis aims to contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding immigration fraud, inform policymakers, and provide insights for strengthening the immigration system’s integrity.

Immigration fraud investigations cover a variety of different immigrant classifications, so this thesis analyzes the structure of marriage fraud investigations in the United States by assessing the ability to adjust one’s immigration status through fraudulent means. This research relied on open-source information, including government reports, academic literature, and established laws and procedures. However, the lack of robust data sets related to fraud investigations, filings, and convictions posed a significant limitation. Such information, for the most part, is classified as sensitive to law enforcement and thus not accessible to the public. Scholarly literature on immigration and marriage fraud investigations was also scarce, thus limiting the available resources. Consequently, the research design relied on published reports, policies, and historical events as the basis for analysis, and the thesis employed qualitative research through the use of the Leavitt’s diamond framework. This comprehensive framework, developed by Harold J. Leavitt, enables managers and researchers to analyze and design organizations effectively, emphasizing the interdependence of four key elements: task, structure, people, and technology.[7]

This thesis highlights both structural and procedural impediments to marriage fraud investigations. It finds that USCIS-related cases are not a priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor lawmakers or voters. Given the objective of this research to strengthen the existing immigration system by better detecting, deterring, and pursuing immigration fraud, this thesis concludes with several recommendations: to reprioritize fraud through policy and enforcement, enhance coordination and information-sharing among government agencies, leverage technology and data analytics, and enhance FDNS’s roles and responsibilities. The thesis calls for the creation of a law enforcement department within USCIS to cut through bureaucratic processes while also updating existing policies to account for fraud enforcement.

[1] “Frauds and Scams,” Montgomery County Police Department, accessed November 26, 2023, https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/pol/fraud/frauds-and-scams.html. This thesis and its drawn conclusions are based on open-source material. The author alone is responsible for the content of this thesis. This thesis does not reflect official positions by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or any related U.S. government department.

[2] Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Marriage Fraud Is a Federal Crime (Washington, DC: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, June 2016), https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/‌documents/‌Document/2016/marriageFraudBrochure.pdf.

[3] “Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, June 15, 2022, https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/organization/directorates-and-program-offices/fraud-detection-and-national-security-directorate; Rebecca S. Gambler, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Additional Actions Needed to Manage Fraud Risks, GAO-22-105328 (Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2022), https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-105328.

[4] Rebecca S. Gambler, Asylum: Additional Actions Needed to Assess and Address Fraud Risks, GAO-16-50 (Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2015), https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-16-50; Rebecca S. Gambler, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Actions Needed to Address Pending Caseload, Report to Congressional Requesters, GAO-21-529 (Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2021), https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=858888; Gambler, USCIS: Additional Actions Needed to Manage Fraud Risks.

[5] Gambler, USCIS: Additional Actions Needed to Manage Fraud Risks, 67–68.

[6] “What Is the Rule of Law,” American Bar Association, accessed June 4, 2023, https://www.american‌bar.‌org/advocacy/rule_of_law/what-is-the-rule-of-law/.

[7] Umar Tahir, “What Is Leavitt’s Diamond Model?,” Change Management Insight, January 10, 2020, https://changemanagementinsight.com/what-is-leavitts-diamond-model/.

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