By: Richard Hanus, Esq.
Published April 11, 2022
This past week brought news of companies and individuals facing legal consequences for dishonest and even fraudulent U.S. immigration related enterprises. The transactions at issue involved foreign nationals being promised U.S. immigration benefits, such as lawful permanent resident status (green card), one by way of the filings of a registered nurse recruiter and the other by way of an “agency” offering to arrange sham marriages to U.S. citizens. The steady stream of news like this confirms just how valuable and attractive the ability to live and work in the U.S. continues to be.
2 Nursing Homes and Foreign RN Recruiter in the Philippines Ordered to Pay $3.2 million to Settle Civil Fraud Suit
Last week the U.S. District Court in New York entered an order settling substantial claims against Sentosa Nursing Recruitment Agency and 2 nursing homes, Golden Gate Rehabilitation & Health Care Center LLC and Spring Creek Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Civil fraud and labor trafficking charges were brought against them by 184 foreign registered nurses who obtained work visas to enter the U.S. based on nursing home employer petitions.
The lawsuit stems from an employer breach of 3 year contracts the nurses signed with New York nursing homes in 2015. The nursing homes later reassigned the contracts to a nursing employment agency which in turn placed the nurses at other 3rd party facilities. In addition to working at previously undisclosed, non-petitioner facilities, the RNs were compensated well below market wage and as promised under their original contract. The contracts also imposed a $25,000.00 termination fee for RNs leaving their positions prior to fulfilling their 3 year obligation.
The settlement includes payouts to all of the RNs in compensation for their losses, including lost wages plus interest. The court order confirming the settlement of civil claims does not discuss whether these defendants will also face criminal charges. The civil case is Paguirigan v. Prompt Nursing Employment Agency LLC et al., Case No. 1:17-CV-01302, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Federal Indictment Handed Down Against Participants in Alleged Marriage Fraud Ring
Obtaining a green card by way of marriage to a U.S. citizen, is among the most popular and straight forward processes under U.S. immigration law. It is also one of the most abused. As America continues to be among the top countries to reside in and legal avenues to obtain residence here remain exceptionally limited, deviously creative individuals will seek to profit off of this reality and work around the system.
When a foreign national’s green card filing is premised on a marriage to a U.S. citizen, the couple must demonstrate that their relationship is “bona fide”, genuine and otherwise not “solely for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit”. How that gets proven is always an interesting question, and so many lawyers and immigration officials I have spoken to over the years, talk about detecting sham marriages in much the same way former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used to speak about deciding on what constitutes obscene or “hard core pornography”: they know it when they see it.
According to last week’s indictment, Philippine national Marcialito Biol Benitez through his agency Career Ad Management LLC, and with the support of 10 others, facilitated more than 400 sham marriages and foreign national green card filings. The indictment against these 11 defendants include charges of marriage fraud and immigration document fraud.
According to the indictment, foreign nationals in the U.S. would pay up to $30,000 in cash to have a marriage to a U.S. citizen to be arranged, and for a scenario to be fabricated so as to provide authorities with the impression the marriage was genuine. Such measures included taking the foreign national shopping for wedding day apparel and putting on a pretend ceremony at a wedding chapel. The foreign national and hired U.S. spouse were also coached on how to best present their stories to immigration officials at green card interviews.
Interestingly, up until now, none of the foreign nationals or U.S. citizens entering into the sham marriage have been charged criminally, likely because they are the primary witnesses for their prosecution’s case.
These 11 defendants face up to five years in prison, and a fine of $250,000 for each marriage fraud count. The case is U.S. v. Benitez et al., case number 1:22-cr-10077, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
PUBLISHED April 11, 2022– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2022, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois