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Samuel Agyapong sham marriage conviction exposes immigration fraud ring in military

An Army soldier’s conviction on marriage fraud costs final week pulled the curtain again on what specialists say is an issue inside the U.S. military, with troops getting into into sham unions with unlawful immigrants in order to earn more cash for themselves and to assist the migrants keep in the nation.

Samuel Manu Agyapong, a Ghanaian immigrant who’d already gained U.S. citizenship for himself, was discovered responsible of serving to an unlawful immigrant — a fellow Ghanaian — by a bogus marriage.

Barbara Oppong parlayed it right into a pathway to citizenship, whereas Agyapong acquired a big increase in pay for being married.

According to prosecutors, Agyapong, a former sergeant, was half of a bigger fraud ring at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the place investigators uncovered at the very least a half-dozen sham marriages, normally involving at the very least one particular person from Ghana trying to erase unlawful standing and achieve a foothold right here.

The conviction got here Friday — about the identical time that Homeland Security was asserting a brand new leniency program for immigrants with connections to the U.S. military, together with speedier citizenship for them and their households. And for some deported veterans, the brand new coverage will enable them an opportunity to be let again in.

But the North Carolina case serves as a warning.

“U.S. Soldiers who continue to engage in marriages to foreign nationals in order to reside off base, obtain [Basic Allowance for Housing], and allow the alien access to military bases and military and immigration benefits jeopardize and erode the critical infrastructure of government installations, and our national security,” mentioned G. Norman Acker III, the appearing U.S. lawyer whose workplace is prosecuting the case in federal civilian courtroom.

Sham marriages aren’t the one immigration-related authorized entanglement for members of the military.

June noticed a number of situations of active-duty troops arrested on costs of smuggling unlawful immigrants.

In Texas, two troopers had been nabbed at a Border Patrol checkpoint. Agents mentioned they discovered two Mexican nationals crammed contained in the trunk of the troopers’ sedan. The troopers mentioned the smuggler who recruited them to drive particularly advised them to put on their uniforms, figuring brokers could be much less prone to scrutinize the automobile of American troops, based on courtroom paperwork.

Just days after the Texas arrest, brokers in California nabbed a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton after recognizing him driving two unlawful immigrants from Mexico.

He is the newest in a string of greater than two dozen Marines at Camp Pendleton whom authorities have related with smuggling.

But it’s the sham marriage state of affairs that would change into a much bigger subject with Homeland Security’s new push to “remove barriers to citizenship” for members of the military.

In the North Carolina case, three Ghanaian immigrants who’d earned U.S. citizenship have been accused of then attempting to hire that privilege out to unlawful immigrants in a mutually helpful association.

Married troops can dwell off base, and get a housing allowance. Their spouses can have unlawful standing forgiven, get on a pathway to citizenship, and get entry to military partner advantages akin to well being care and base privileges.

A 2013 Marine Corps Times investigation discovered Marines might get greater than $20,000 a 12 months in further pay and allowances by being married.

Marriage fraud amongst troops occurs for extra than simply immigration causes, with the housing and different pay boosts proving enticing sufficient. Some troops will even promote on-line for a partner in order to marry and get the advantages.

Immigration, although, gives a particular incentive, and sniffing out fraud is troublesome it doesn’t matter what the case.

Jessica Vaughan, coverage research director on the Center for Immigration Studies, mentioned in the immigration context, marriage fraud charges could also be as a lot as 1 / 4 of candidates. But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security company that handles authorized immigration purposes, not often investigates, she mentioned.

In the North Carolina case, a 2019 tip despatched to Army investigators helped blow the quilt on Agyapong and unravel the broader rip-off. But for that tip, they could have gotten away with it, Ms. Vaughan mentioned.

“What’s noteworthy is that this soldier probably did not perceive much of a risk in committing this fraud, and perhaps did not even consider it to be wrong,” she mentioned.

Sometimes, the migrants are fairly brazen.

In one case out of Fort Carson, Colorado, an immigrant couple from Trinidad & Tobago who overstayed their visas continued to dwell publicly as a household despite the fact that certainly one of them had married an Army sergeant to win authorized standing. The sergeant in that case was sentenced to eight months in pri-son.

Homeland Security didn’t reply to a request for remark.

According to courtroom paperwork, the Fort Bragg fraud operation was run by Ebenezer Asane, Agyapong’s finest pal and likewise an immigrant from Ghana who had been in the military.

Asane paid hundreds of {dollars} to troopers for his or her help in the scams. One soldier demanded $3,600 to participate in a pretend marriage, whereas one other soldier was paid a $2,000 finder’s payment for recruiting a soldier keen to marry, prosecutors mentioned.

The fraud ring appeared to specialize in Ghanaians who’d entered on authorized visas however by no means left, turning into unlawful immigrants when their visas expired. Among them was Asane’s brother, based on courtroom paperwork.

In Asane’s case, prosecutors mentioned he even had his precise girlfriend be one of many witnesses at his sham marriage.

He would additionally coach {couples} on questions they must reply at USCIS throughout their in-person interviews to get approval of their marriage-related immigrant petitions.

Asane boasted of a 100% success charge in discovering matches. He was given a 44-month sentence.

Agyapong’s sentencing is scheduled for this fall, and he faces as much as 25 years in pri-son.

One particular person charged in the fraud ring, James Earnest Ekow Arthur, was acquitted.

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