When "Abby" enrolled in my English as a second language class, she had been in the U.S. for only a few weeks.
Abby is different from most of my students. At twenty, she is younger than the average student. And Abby's native country is Brazil. Most of my class is either from Mexico or Pakistan.
Something else set Abby apart, too. As a brand new bride living out her dream of coming to America, Abby was full of enthusiasm for learning English.
Abby said that she had met her husband while he was working on a construction crew in Brazil. When they fell in love, she got a fiancée visa, joined him in Lodi and they married.
When I heard "fianceé visa," I was immediately skeptical. But the story sounded plausible. Since Abby is a nice kid, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. But before long, my suspicions were confirmed.
I overheard Abby tell classmates that her husband was twice her age, didn't want her to learn to drive and worked as an auto mechanic.
And one day, when part of a classroom exercise was to write sentences using either "must" or "might," Abby wrote: "Why must you drink so much?"
Then, three months after she arrived in the U.S., Abby announced that her husband had thrown her out.
As it turned out, Mr. Wonderful is 58, nearly three times Abby's age. And Abby is the third woman he brought to the U.S. on a fiancée visa. The other two were Russian women, whom he cut loose before marrying them. Abby doesn't know what happened, but we can be 100% sure they didn't go back to Russia.
Here in a nutshell is Abby's current situation: she has no job, no skills, no money, no close friends, no family and no home. She speaks limited English. If Abby is lucky, she might land a 7-Eleven job.
Abby is living in the Women's Center. She can stay there for 60 days. In the meantime, she goes to Lodi Community Center where she gets free bus tickets and two free loaves of bread a week.
Mr. Wonderful has offered to buy Abby a return ticket to Brazil. But she doesn't want to go. "I'm already here," she declared.
While I feel badly for the young and naïve Abby, anyone who puts herself up for sale on the Internet has to take the consequences.
No matter what anyone may think about the merits or flaws of our immigration system, few can argue that the growth of international marriage agencies, aided and abetted by the "fiancée visa" is—for all except the shameless immigration lawyers and those who own the agencies —a bad deal all around.
The K-1 or fiancée visa makes it all happen. The visa, valid for 90 days, is issued when an American male petitions the INS for the woman to come to the U.S. If no marriage occurs during that period, then legally the woman must return. Of course, not many do.
Matchmaking companies drive the K-1 visa sham. Marriage agencies are an unregulated, multimillion-dollar industry. Organizations like the Anastasia Company (www.russianbrides.com) claim to do it all for the prospective groom.
So accommodating is the Anastasia Company that it will even arrange for flowers, candy or teddy bears to be delivered to over 180 Russian and Ukrainian cities. "Make your lady feel special!" encourages Anastasia. Just imagine: your bouquet in Moldova!
When it comes time for the visa nitty-gritty, the Anastasia Company passes the ball to the K-1 specialists, Lawrence R. Holmes and Allan Scott Lolly (www.fianceevisas.com). Conveniently, the two firms endorse each other on their websites.
If you are perhaps intrigued by the prospect of a Russian bride, may I sound a cautionary note? Holmes, who devotes his entire practice to fiancée visas, has this potentially exhausting advice for clients: "Stay in Russia for as long as possible. Spend as much time with as many women as possible. This increases your odds of success."
And Holmes is very proud of his success. His website proudly states that Holmes has "a 100% success rate."
All of this is tawdry stuff. Young women like Abby who would probably have decent lives in their own country come to America to be turned out and then left to their own devices.
But sometimes the young "exotic" brides dump the loser guys. Often the women know more about how things work in the U.S. than they have let on.
Many husbands have complained that their sweet brides had dramatic personality changes once they arrived on American soil. And other men report that once married, the new bride announces that her children—previously unmentioned—will be joining them soon.
Said former Senior INS official T. Alexander Aleinikoff in a critical statement about the international marriage business, "This is not to say that some (K-1 visa) marriages aren't bona fide but given the chance for abuse and exploitation, should we be handing out visas that aren't subject to quotas where the industry is totally unregulated?"
The fiancée visa isn't in our national interest. The U.S. has no compelling need to issue a K-1 visa. Nor do we need the new K-3 visas that reduce the waiting time for those who married overseas and wish to bring their spouses to the U.S.
We need to slow down, not speed up, any and all immigration processes.
Yet the number of K-1 visas issued annually has increased steadily over the last five years, according to the State Department.
Eliminating these visas would be an excellent way to begin the overdue cutback in legal levels of immigration.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.