Monday, May 31, 2004 - AP Regional - AP Regional

May 31, 2004, 10:46 AM EDT

EDs: Note Connecticut angle in graf 5, "Brazos County isn't..."

BRYAN, Texas (AP) _ The federal indictments of 38 Texans suspected of involvement in a marriage fraud ring centered in Bryan shined a spotlight on a decades-old problem.

Sham weddings intended to fool immigration officers is a nationwide problem that immigration officials and legislators have yet to eliminate.

Emma Guyton Carr, 46, of Bryan and Aminata Smith, 43, of Houston have been charged with conspiracy, four counts of encouraging unlawful immigration and causing four fraudulent marriages.

Half of the 36 suspected fraudulent marriages targeted in last week's indictments were filed in Brazos Valley counties.

Brazos County isn't the only area where the fraud is a problem. Similar cases have emerged involving people in Connecticut, Kansas and California recently.

The immigrants involved in the Brazos Valley indictments most likely had expired visas and needed to get married to remain in the country, said Luisa Aquino, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Securitys Houston district.

Others are smuggled into the country or contacted by a person who arranges the illegal marriage, she said in Monday's online edition of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

In 1986 the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment was created to curtail the fraud.

The law granted a temporary, two-year conditional green card, which helped officials identify sham marriages. Couples would have to fill out paperwork that proved they were still married at the end of two years.

Prior to the law, a citizen could file for a permanent green card for a noncitizen spouse. The green card would establish permanent residency and allow the holder to legally work in the United States, for a noncitizen spouse.

"It's natural to be where you want to be and work where you want to work," said Daniel Kowalski, an Austin-based lawyer who has spent 19 years practicing immigration law. "Our structure's such that it's becoming even more difficult to get a green card. If you can't get here legally, you will pay money or risk your life to get here."

Marriage fraud carries a penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The citizens charged in the Brazos Valley indictments are accused of taking between $150 and $500 for each marriage from Smith and Guyton Carr, authorities said.

Prosecutors say Guyton Carr and Smith were paid between $1,500 and $5,000 for allegedly arranging marriages for the immigrants.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press


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