Writing immigration columns week after week, month after month and year after year occasionally wears me down.
Most of the news, as readers know all too well, is depressing.
Researching those columns is like spending a day at the beach perusing your favorite tabloids or passing the afternoon on the couch watching trashy daytime television shows. The difference is that the K-1 has an immigration spin.
As I enter my eighth year of reporting on the fiancée hoax, I'm still amazed by the perpetrators' creativity and the victims' naïveté.
Abby was young and attractive but without any job skills that would allow her to make it on her own if she were to find out that her husband, a man nearly three times her age, turned out to be less than advertised.
And that's exactly what happened to Abby. Mr. Wonderful, as I dubbed him, was an abusive alcoholic who had brought two other women to the U.S. on K-1 visas.
Mr. Wonderful's mission with Abby, as with all his other brides, was to have lots of sex with women who without the green card carrot that he symbolized wouldn't have given him the time of day.
Abby represents Template Number One in the fiancée visa racket: a bored, desperate young woman who hooks up with old guy of comfortable means through an Internet matchmaker.
In all likelihood, when Abby agreed to come to America to marry a man she barely knew, she was aware of the risks involved. But Abby, like other women (and sometimes men) in her circumstances, rolled the dice to escape her impoverished country and eventually obtain U.S. citizenship.
Template Number Two is the shamelessly unscrupulous woman, who in her Internet profiles misrepresents herself completely to dupe a fool young or old into believing she loves him. Once in America, she takes him to the cleaners.
I've had only indirect experience with this type.
In one of Rose's conversations with Stanley, she confided in him that she listed herself as a prospective bride on the Internet. On her resume, however, she omitted her profession, the oldest one, and wrote only that she liked baking and long, moonlit night walks along the beach.
Going back eight years, if someone had asked me to guess whether Congress would take steps to curtail the obviously flawed K-1 non-immigrant visa that offers multiple opportunities for fraud and abuse or whether it would proliferate out of all proportion, I immediately would have selected the second choice.
And I would have been right. A Google search for "mail order bride" turned up more than 5 million hits.
But there are also thousands more websites where people meet informally in chat rooms and on message boards to interact with the opposite sex. Many of those chats involve Americans seeking foreign-born spouses.
I consider the growth of the K-1 visa as a phenomenon similar to the matricula consular card.
Much the same has happened with the industry that has built up around the K-1. Originally, the K-1 was a legitimate visa to facilitate the entry of a foreign loved one into the United States.
The amended Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allowed several ways for this to happen.
Traditionally, an American would marry in a foreign country and then petition the spouse whose application would be given immediate preference. However, in some cases a foreign citizen and an American citizen cannot legally marry in a foreign country, even though the marriage would have no legal impediments in the United States.
For example, some countries require a parent's permission to marry even for adults, or forbid marrying outside of one's religion or ethnic group. Additionally, some couples prefer to have their wedding in the United States. In these circumstances, a K-1 visa is especially useful.
But now much of that has changed.
The Internet replaced the historical method of procuring a foreign-born spouse—the voluminous, printed catalog available for sale in the back of various, now-defunct men's magazines like Argosy.
Anyone with plastic in his wallet can leave for Russia on Wednesday—as did two Pennsylvanians I profiled in 2006 under the names "Sam" and "Dave"—meet dozens of pliable women during the next seventy-two hours, and be back home for the Sunday NFL kickoff.
Without any checks on them, the bogus marriage matchmakers grow bolder every day.
In the end, the total of the legitimate considerations that the K-1 serves added to those who exploit it for nefarious purposes explains its rapid growth.
But never did I imagine that go-betweens would crassly announce in widely-read newspapers that they have women for sale. Boiled down to its bare bones, the women represented by their "brokers" announce that they are illegally in the United States, even though they may claim otherwise.
The New York Post recently reported that the Russian Advertiser, a U.S. published Russian-language weekly, is engaged in "brazen nuptial fraud". Entire classified-ad sections are devoted to "delovoy brak" or "business marriages". [From Russian with $$: Brazen Nuptial Frauds, by Isabel Vincent and Stefanie Cohen, July 19, 2009]
According to the Post, last week's issue had 34 ads from men and women hoping to come together in "unholy matrimony."
A federal law-enforcement source agreed that it's a common practice in certain Eastern European and Russian immigrant neighborhoods.
"It's a big business. It's really prevalent within that community," the agent said.
Bill Wright, a CIS spokesman, added: "Marriage fraud can be difficult to prove given the audacity and sheer patience of the individuals involved."
Not only has the industry grown bolder over the years, the purchase price has moved up briskly, too.
A marriage broker contacted by an undercover Post reporter posing as a green-card seeker walked him through the process.
The broker said the marriage would set the reporter back $31,500 in cash.
Of that total, $25,000 would go to the fiancée — with $10,000 given up front and $15,000 paid after CIS approves the green card application. The remaining $6,500 would go to the agency for paperwork.
Since 2002, I've wondered how the K-1 has not only survived but thrived during a period where awareness about immigration's negative consequences has increased dramatically.
My answer: while most Americans are opposed to illegal immigration and want legal immigration more strictly controlled, the visa problem remains largely under the radar.
If you were to give the average American a visa quiz, he might reply that it's used to travel to and from certain countries. A more enlightened test-taker may recognize the H-1B visa and be able to identify its purpose.
But the average man on the street could not begin to guess that nearly fifty visa categories are available for reasons—ranging from, to name only a few, allowing an eager male to bring into America a strange woman; or to hire a migrant farm worker who will pick blueberries in Maine; or to stock a minor league baseball roster; or to recruit a Muslim Imam with ties to terrorists to serve in a Lodi, CA mosque.
For raising awareness about the K-1 visa, however, there's a bigger problem.
One of the online comments to the Post story expressed it best:
"So you bang a hot Russian chick for two years for $32,000. I don't see the issue."
That perception may be impossible to change.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.