"Business Marriages" Anything But Businesslike

Nothing about the New York Post story on green card marriages is really that shocking - the payoffs, the crackdowns, the young women posting ads for "business marriages" - except the openly gross men involved.

While faux-marriages are nothing new (Green Card, anyone?), apparently recently there's been a huge upswing in the number of Eastern European immigrants using New York's expat community to contract "delovoy brak," or "business marriages." The piece in the Post reports that in one week, a Russian-language weekly ran 34 ads by people openly seeking the illegal arrangement. (That pic ran with one of the ads, and is typical.)

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When a reporter contacted a marriage broker, he was told a marriage would run him about $30 grand, of which $25,000 would go to the "wife," to be paid in full after a successful interview with immigration. And while immigration officials quoted in the article claim they're cracking down hard, they admit sham marriages can be hard to prove - and several who've engaged in them say, for their part, that the interview's a breeze. Although the issue's been on lawmakers' radars for more than 20 years, few provisions and little legislation has ever passed, and it's apparently regarded as a low priority, a victimless crime that doesn't call for much attention - although many "legitimate" couples do claim that the practice subjects them to humiliating and unfair scrutiny.

None of this is exactly shocking. Nor is the fact that these situations are ripe for exploitation, one imagines particularly for the women involved. What was, rather, is the insouciance with which the quoted "grooms" discuss the business. Says one guy, a Ukrainian immigrant who has U.S. citizenship, "I get calls asking me to marry one of these girls every other week...It's easy money, and the girls are really hot."

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Then there's a sidebar, "I was taken for a bride." While the headline implies that the man in question, "Ivan," was duped by a goldigger, his quotes tell a rather different story. While it's true that some men - lonely, naive - are indeed "duped" for money when they think they're involved in a romance, this is clearly a case in which the guy knew exactly what he was doing - and that he's fairly typical of the "legalizer" in these situations.

Her name was Yelena. She was really hot, in her 20s.She had come over on a student visa. We went over the figures that night at dinner. The next week, we went to City Hall. I let her move in with me. I wanted to be real secure with this. I didn't want to get arrested. I actually wanted to be with her. I was attracted to her. Everything I told her to do, she did. I would scare her on purpose. I would say, "If you don't do so and so, I am going to report you."

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Ivan says that Yelena was "shoplifting like crazy," was "cheating on him," stole from him, and "was probably an escort" to boot. She served him with divorce papers while he was in the hospital recovering from an injury. Nevertheless, despite seeming to feel he was ill-used, he ends by saying, "Who knows? I might do it again."

What's especially weird about his account is the matter-of-factness of tone, the expectation that the two would try to use each other for whatever they could, and the casual way he admits to blackmailing her for, what? Sexual favors? One can only assume. And this story, while typical, is hardly as bad as it gets: rates of domestic abuse in green-card marriages are extremely high, and as happy-ending "mail-order bride" Lera Loeb told Glamour, "In Ukraine the potential dangers of the so-called mail-order bride industry are not as well known as they are in America." Perhaps a woman who is, unlike a "mail-order," already living in America has a bit more of a support network than someone who is completely on her own, but as this story demonstrates, she's still in a uniquely vulnerable position, and completely at the mercy of those who have some leverage over her, to say nothing of money and power. In such a situation, two years can be a long time. It's also true that, given the high rates of domestic abuse in many of the same Eastern European countries, in these arrangements there might be a tacit communal blind eye turned on such abuse. As in any unregulated sphere, in short, the potential for institutionalized abuse is very, very high. And what's worse, it's what people on both sides have come to take for granted. Even if everyone involved ends up a victim of sorts - and even if it's what they sign on for - this is not a situation that anyone should be taking lightly.

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FROM RUSSIA WITH $$ [New York Post]
I WAS TAKEN FOR A BRIDE [New York Post]
Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name: Inside The Green Card Marriage Phenomenon [Center for Immigration Studies]
Yes, This Woman Is A "Mail-Order Bride" [Glamour]
Mail Order Brides And The Abuse Of Immigrant Women [No Status Quo]

Stop Violence Against Women [StopVAW]

Related: Mail-Order Bride Finds Love; Hopefully No Others Read This

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