March 20, 2006 — -- Last week, Isabel* got married. Of course, her husband was there. But so was her husband's boyfriend. And her husband's boyfriend's wife.
Isabel, an immigrant from Latin America, has been living in Miami for the last eight years. She went to school here and has started a promising career. And she has lots of friends -- jet-setting Europeans and American girls who count among the "beautiful people."
When her visa ran out, one of those friends -- her very special friend David* -- agreed to marry her so that she could apply for a resident visa. For David, lending Isabel a hand in marriage wasn't much of a sacrifice. Being gay, David had no intention of marrying another woman, now or any time in the foreseeable future.
As for David's finding some way to marry his gay partner, someone else beat him to it. His gay partner, Manuel,* is also an immigrant from Latin America living in Miami. When he started having visa problems four months ago, he decided to marry Laura.*
Now David, Manuel, Isabel and Laura form an unlikely quartet of marriage under the law: two husbands, two wives, but only one couple. As Isabel describes David, whom she met at work, "he's great at his profession. … He's handsome. … I could have been in love with him," she said. "It's kind of sad that he -- my husband -- is gay."
While the double marriage and sexual preference twist may be unusual, the basic story of marrying to stay in America is nothing new.
According to immigration lawyer Carl Shusterman, what the government calls a "fraudulent spouse profile" -- and he calls a "phony baloney marriage" -- is a relatively common way immigrants evade rules that would otherwise keep them out. Isabel believes that in Miami, it's easy to find American citizens short on cash and ready to offer their hand in marriage for up to $12,000 a hitch.
Shusterman was previously a government immigration officer who investigated suspicious marriages as part of his job. He estimates that 500,000 and 600,000 of the 1 million people who immigrate to the United States each year obtain their green card through marriage. Mixed in with the many legitimate marriages are "fraudulent spouses."