A California-based production company says it's looking for a network to air a new dating show that promises to set up American singles with immigrants looking to fall in love and maybe score a Green Card too.
In the midst of a national debate on immigration, "Who Wants to Marry a U.S. Citizen," could be seen as a mirror of national sentiment, a critique of the Byzantine bureaucracy foreigners must negotiate to become citizens or as its producer claims, just as fun.
In the tradition of "The Dating Game," which ran in the 1960s and 1970s, three legal immigrants looking to meet a citizen are quizzed by an American national, before they are chosen for a date.
"The show is basically a dating show with a twist," said Executive Producer Eddie Rivera.
The show's producers have filmed one bare-bones episode, which has been posted on the Internet and aired on a local cable station in Los Angeles.
"One will get to stay in the country; two others will possibly be deported," goes the tagline on an Internet promotion.
Rivera said that "Who Wants to Marry a U.S. Citizen" makes no promises of legal U.S. citizenship, and is only an opportunity to meet someone for a date.
"I think people will be surprised to see how the show really works. No one will get a free pass; we're not giving away the chance to be a citizen."
The show is being produced by Morusa Media, a company with no Web site. ABC News could find no evidence of its registration in California. In different reports the creator of the program has been called both Adrian Martinez and Adrian Rodriguez.
Rivera insisted the program was not a hoax and that the show's producers were in touch with several interested networks, though he would not name them. He said Morusa was an established company that was also behind an Internet radio site that plays music for pets called dogcatradio.com.
Falling in love and getting married, no matter how a couple meets, are the first -- and perhaps most enjoyable steps -- in a long succession of hurdles toward applying for U.S. citizenship.
Meeting someone through a game show is not an automatic disqualifier for citizenship, but it would raise flags with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Shawn Saucier, a spokesman for the department's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"If the game show is specifically to meet a U.S. citizen, it could call into question the legitimacy of a marriage. That's not to say that the marriage isn't necessarily legit; we'd just have to look at the case closely," Saucier said.
To become a citizen through marriage, both the national and foreigner have to provide documentary proof that they have been married. They are then interviewed to determine whether the marriage is legitimate or simply a ruse to gain citizenship.
Cathy, 29, a student and part-time bartender who declined to give her last name, said it took a year and half from the time she married her German journalist husband to the time she had her first interview with Homeland Security.
"We spent four hours at Homeland Security for a 15-minute interview, and when it was over he still hadn't been granted a Green Card. … We showed them pictures from our wedding, and they asked us each who everybody was. … We also brought photos from our honeymoon. … It was clear we had spent a lot of money on the wedding, and that we were legit."
In a sort of game show twist of its own, some couples when interviewed by Homeland Security are separated and asked personal questions about each other and then brought together again to compare their responses.
"We ask them questions that a reasonable person would know about their spouse. It is not the sort of deal where if you don't know what hair products your wife uses, you don't get in. … We're living in 2007, and people have a lot of different lifestyles; one spouse might maintain a residence on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast," Saucier said.
Last year, 339,843 people became legal permanent residents and received their Green Cards (a document that gives non-U.S. citizens permanent residence and the right to work) through marriage.
"The penalty for entering a fraudulent marriage for the purposes of gaining citizenship is five years and $250,000 fine," he said.
Two years after a couple has been approved, they must be evaluated again by the government. Even if a couple has divorced, if they can prove they tried to make things work as any other couple would, the foreign spouse is still eligible for citizenship, Saucier said.
Though the pilot episode of "Who Wants to Marry a U.S. Citizen" included only Latin contestants, the show's producers say casting will be open to all legal aliens.
"We've received a flood of e-mails. … The show isn't just about Hispanic immigrants, contestants can be Chinese, Bolivian, German," the executive producer Rivera said.
Some immigrant rights groups are already calling into question the motives behind the show.
"The existence of the show speaks to the problems with immigration legislation, and why people sometimes enter sham marriages to gain citizenship," said Arnoldo García, director of the immigrant justice program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.