There are two kinds of immigration-related marriage fraud, and one is much more difficult for the authorities to detect than the other.
In one scenario the alien sweet-talks the citizen into a real marriage, keeps the marriage alive for the needed two years after which the green card can be secured, and later breaks off the marriage and seeks a divorce. Let's call these the con cases.
In the other the alien (or his or her agent) simply pays a citizen to go through a sham marriage. These are the cash cases.
At lunch the other day with an ex-INS official I asked if the con cases were less numerous than, and harder to detect than, the cash cases, and he readily agreed: "yes and yes" he said.
One reason for this, of course, is alien convenience. It is much easier to write a check to buy the citizen's cooperation than to live a lie with one's apparent partner for two years or more.
A more subtle reason for the divergence in detecting the two kinds of cases relates to the basic investigative technique used by the feds if they suspect a phony marriage. If, in the USCIS interview with the couple involved in a green card application, suspicion is aroused, the investigators subsequently pay an unannounced visit to the pair's residence. It can become clear quite readily that this is a home for one or for two, and if the former, the case is fairly easily broken. These are the cash cases.
But if the visit were to be to the residence of a couple in one of the con cases, the alien would be in residence and the citizen spouse would still be convinced that this was a genuine marriage. The light would dawn for the misled citizen only after the green card was awarded, and a divorce suit filed, and at this point the citizen might well be too chagrined to blow the whistle.
My own sense of the relative frequency of these two kinds of marriage frauds is also based on reading the immigration-related press stories collected daily by the eagled-eyed staff of CIS; they display about 25 domestic articles a day, and about 15 from overseas, and I have been reviewing each collection for several years. About once or twice a week they find a marriage-fraud story, and I cannot remember — with a single exception — anything but a cash case being reported in the American press.
As a sample of the stories on cash cases, see this recent item from the Sacramento Bee headlined "Immigration consultant pleads guilty in marriage fraud scheme".
The story is a fairly typical one. It deals with cash cases (usually $5,000 to the citizen), there is a middleman (originally from Russia), and there are numerous other criminals (aliens paying and citizens receiving payment). In this case there was a full baker's dozen of indictments. I have gathered that Eastern European criminal gangs, operating in the United States, often engage in this kind of activity.
The case was typical for another reason, too: None of the aliens involved was Hispanic. Because of an inconsistency in the federal law, those who sneak into the nation (entering without inspection, or EWI) cannot easily adjust status because of a marriage to a U.S. citizen, but it is far easier for a visa abuser to do so — and most EWIs are Hispanic.
And of course, there were a batch of these cash cases all revolving around Sergey Potepalov, the Sacramento middleman, but the con cases all have to be worked out individually, over time, with individual aliens and individual citizens; there is no room for a ring leader — or a multi-alien conspiracy.
It would be helpful, but out-of-character, if this administration spent a little more energy checking out the some 300,000 visa-creating marriages coming before USCIS each year, but that appears to be unlikely.
Incidentally, the Conservative government in Canada has just issued a short video warning people about the con kind of marriage fraud; I cannot imagine the Department of Homeland Security doing anything so useful.