What's a Little Marriage Fraud Between Amigos?

It's a felony, sure, but in the absence of real immigration reform, some young, assimilated illegal immigrants see it as their best path to citizenship

Panicked, Juan ran to his bedroom and told his girlfriend to enter Juana’s room; there, he told Juana’s boyfriend to join his girlfriend in the bedroom’s walk-in closet. The boxer-clad Juan slipped on some shorts and a T-shirt and answered the door.

The immigration officer was annoyed—there were three cars parked outside; you guys only own two. Who does the third belong to?

A guy hooked up with a girl and left her car here for the night, Juan explained as Juana emerged from the bathroom, recently wetted hair bundled tight in a towel. The officer showed himself into the house and walked toward Juan’s bedroom. The bed was unmade—who had slept here? A friend did a couple of nights ago, and I haven’t had the time to make the bed, Juana replied.

Doug Boehm
Doug Boehm

They moved on to Juana’s bedroom, where the immigration officer saw pictures of her and Juan together, the same ones they had showed the day before to another officer but framed and larger. All along, their lovers hid in the closet and heard everything.

“My girlfriend said she wanted to hyperventilate,” Juan recalls during a phone conversation with the Weekly.

“My boyfriend wanted to piss,” Juana remembers.

After about half an hour, the immigration officer left. Two months later, Juan received a letter in the mail from the government that his application was approved. He’s now a permanent resident and is working toward his citizenship.

Juana divorced Juan in 2008, citing irreconcilable differences. They had a perfect cover for that, too: Juan was moving to the East Coast to attend graduate school. They still keep in touch—Juana and her boyfriend attended Juan’s graduation a couple of weeks ago.

“My guy was a trooper,” Juana says, referring to her now-fiance. “He didn’t get too jealous, even if that meant we had to sacrifice some of our own time over those years. He understood—he even says he would’ve done it if someone needs that help.” She claims she and Juan never experienced any romantic feelings toward each other. “We were really good friends who supported each other. Even when we kissed for the cameras, it was just acting. It obviously worked.”

“I owe my life to Juana,” Juan says. “We never slipped. Imagine if we did?”

*     *     *

Jose and Josefa are looking for wedding bands inside the Asian Gardens Mall in Little Saigon. They’ve already picked a date in November for their fake wedding and a venue for their party. The two plan to move in soon and open a joint bank account. But Juan doesn’t plan to apply for his residency until 2012.

“I’ve heard that if you wait for a year, it won’t seem like we did it just for the green card,” Jose says, as they leave one jewelry shop for another. “It’ll seem as if we’re actually two kids in love.”

In a way, they are. Jose entered this country in 1997, not knowing a word of English. One of the first friends he made in junior high was Josefa, who also kept his sexuality a secret through high school and into college. “I always knew about my legal status, but I figured that at some point, it would fix itself,” Jose said. “I figured that by the time I graduated, something would happen, whether the DREAM Act or amnesty or something. As cheesy as it sounds, I just figured I’d go on with my life to the fullest that I can, and it would all work out.”

But despair set in earlier this year, when a close friend of his was caught in an immigration checkpoint in the Midwest and is now fighting deportation hearings. Jose had about $5,000 in the bank, and he decided he’d pay a woman whom his sister-in-law knew to marry him. The day they were supposed to meet and discuss the proposition, Jose didn’t show.

“I’ve heard too many horror stories,” he said. He then tells the story of a friend of his mother’s: “He married a black woman, paying her $2,000. This was about 10 years ago. She still calls him every couple of months, threatening to go to immigration unless he pays her more money. He’s stuck in a nightmare.

“Besides, if I was going to marry someone,” he adds, “it would be because I actually like the person, not just to save myself.”

Jose didn’t tell Josefa about his plans to pay someone to marry him. A couple of weeks ago, they were stuck on the 101 freeway, returning from a night of bar-hopping in Hollywood, talking to let the time go by. There was a silence, and then she blurted, “Why aren’t we getting married?” They had never brought up the subject before. He laughed it off. The following day, she called him again and asked.

“You don’t have to do it,” he said.

“I’m doing it for the movement,” she replied. “And for you.”

“I had to think about it for a couple of days,” Jose admits. “I didn’t think she was serious.” Over the next couple of days, the two talked about the next few years—what they would face, what they needed to do, how their lives would change.

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