Here's the set-up: An American marries a foreigner to help a virtual stranger get a green card.
Hollywood calls it the makings of a quirky romance. Immigration officials call it marriage fraud.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it's mounting its first-ever public awareness campaign on marriage fraud in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York.
Hollywood "makes it a warm, fuzzy story," said ICE Special Agent Claude Arnold, who oversees investigations in Los Angeles. "The fact is that these are done by criminal organizations that are just trying to make money arranging the marriages.”
Arnold said his office is currently investigating several marriage fraud rings. The most recent conviction was of Alake “Terry” Ilegbameh of Baldwin Hills. He was sentenced last week to more than two years in prison for arranging sham marriages for Nigerian nationals.
Getting a green card through marriage is the fastest way to permanent residency, and citizenship. But Arnold said marrying a stranger undermines the immigration system, and creates a national security problem.
"Because you don’t know who could take the advantage of this to get legal status in the country," Arnold said.
Marriage fraud is considered a felony and punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.