The young woman had a small purple bruise on her temple. The old man with her was clearly distraught. They did not have an appointment, but my law partner let them into his office.

The old man was looking for an immigration lawyer. He wanted the man who had beaten his daughter deported.

"I don't want to go to the police," he said. "I want him reported to the INS and deported. His marriage to my daughter is fake, and I want him out of the country."

My partner informed the old man that such action would require his daughter to admit she had accepted money to marry the man in order for him to obtain American citizenship -- an offense for which she could go to jail.

"Well then, he's Pakistani, and I think he's a terrorist, too," the man said. "I've heard him talking to his friends about bombing the INS."

While some adhere to the notion that America is a great melting pot, it's not enough of a melting pot that love is blooming naturally between Russian immigrant women in their late 40s and Puerto Rican men of 20. But to look around an INS waiting room full of couples awaiting a marriage interview, you'd think that America had embraced diversity to such an extent that the coupling of a Chinese immigrant who speaks no English and an African-American mother of two was a commonplace pairing.

The easiest way to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States is to marry a U.S. citizen. There is generally always a visa available for you, even if the government has issued a record number of visas already that year. And you don't have to wait for the visa either, as it is immediately available, in the parlance of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

So it's no wonder that almost every illegal alien, or legal alien faced with the imminent expiration of his visa, considers purchasing a "business marriage." For as little as $3,000, or as much as $15,000, you can have a U.S. citizen spouse. The $3,000 fee usually gets you the marriage certificate and a ceremony, and some cooperation from the U.S. citizen spouse during the INS interview. The "fully loaded" business marriage can include living with the U.S. citizen spouse for the requisite time period.

Business marriages have probably existed as long as the law allowed non-citizen spouses of U.S. citizens to remain in the U.S., but the last year's extraordinary efforts by the INS to round up illegal aliens and ferret out sham marriages have yielded disturbing information. It's now clear that the business marriage, which was once something that depended on the lucky confluence of a willing U.S. citizen, a willing illegal alien and several thousand dollars, is now an organized business run like any other.

In April 2001, the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that permitted an illegal alien to remain in the U.S. while the INS processed his visa application was set to expire. Municipalities and the INS were besieged with requests for marriage licenses and marriage-based immigrant petitions. The U.S. Attorney's Office says it was a boom for Daisy Aguilar of Murray, Utah, who set up a business marriage assembly line. She purchased a closet's worth of wedding gowns and set up parties in local restaurants where, for $5,000, she would introduce illegal immigrants to U.S. citizen spouses.

After the money changed hands and the wedding was performed, Aguilar would set up joint bank accounts for the alien and citizen, and provide them with an apartment, where they would be required to live together for 18 months.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, immigration enforcement has shown that, at least for some Muslim men, the business marriage is a choice method of remaining in the United States. By February of this year, federal prosecutors had charged 24 Muslim men with fraud for entering into business marriages. One, Rachid Rabhi, was charged for entering into two fraudulent marriages, the second ostensibly because the U.S. citizen spouse in the first refused to cooperate in Rabhi's visa application. One wonders if he got his money back.

A sham marriage is normally detected through the marriage interview, sometimes called a Stokes interview, after the case that first won the INS court approval of the procedure. Couples are separated and asked questions such as: Which drawer does your spouse keep his/her underwear in? What color is your bathroom shower curtain? What time was the alarm clock set for the morning of the interview? People who have not lived together, that is, people without the resources to purchase a full business marriage, always fail and the visa application is denied. But illegal aliens with larger -- or unlimited -- resources always live with their U.S. citizen spouse for the requisite period of time and always pass.

Then they get divorced.

Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994. He founded his own New York City firm in 1997, specializing in immigration law and representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He recently left the practice for the "more normal life" of insurance defense. He lives in Bergen County, N.J.

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