Should I marry an alien for money so he can gain citizenship?

I've been thinking I could really use some start-up capital, and immigration fraud might be just the way to do it!

Published May 11, 2006 11:23AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am seriously considering offering to marry a man from another country so that he can get his citizenship -- and I can get a lot of money.

Even as I'm typing these words, I know how horrible they sound. But I am not a huge advocate of marriage, am currently single (have had great love in my life), and I need capital to get a business off the ground. I know this is morally reprehensible to a lot of people, but, truthfully, it is an amazing little piece of power that I am holding that could change the lives of two people. I wouldn't marry just anyone -- he would need to be decent and his reasons for wanting to be an American citizen would need to be pure, non-criminal (I know, I know, marrying me would be a crime, but you know what I mean), and of sound mind.

I have never been married, even though I came close twice to marrying men that I loved very much. I do have some qualms, obviously. Mostly, in order for the union to be recognized, I believe we would have to have sex at least once in order to consummate the marriage. That is my No. 1 issue with all of this. I believe I could marry for money to secure my business, but throw sex into all of it and suddenly it feels seedy, rather than entrepreneurial.

Your thoughts?

"A" Personality Type

Dear "A" Personality,

You ask if I think it's a good idea to commit immigration fraud in order to raise capital to start a business.

I would say no. There are a number of reasons. Some are practical. Others are psychological and philosophical -- reasons of morality and principle.

One practical reason to raise capital for a business legally through legitimate investors is that the process of finding and interesting investors is a good test of the viability of the business. Investors will bring a degree of critical thinking to the decision-making process that will either help your business succeed if they decide to invest or help dissuade you from starting the business if they conclude that it is a hopeless business model. The process will also help you refine your model as they ask crucial questions and make reasoned critiques.

Even if your investors are not particularly savvy, just the process of expressing the business idea will be a healthy one.

Also, once it is running your business will operate in a complex system of laws and regulations. If you conduct things by the book from the beginning, you will have a good practice in place, and will find that it requires you to use the kind of disciplined approach every businessperson needs. If, however, you have to hide how the initial capital for the business was raised, this may cause you to incorporate certain distortions into your projections and assumptions that may later prove troublesome. It may also cause you to avoid dealing with regulatory matters where questions about the source of your money may arise. You will always be hiding something. It will be an uncomfortable area to discuss. You may therefore fail to meet certain requirements that will later prove costly.

There is also the matter of morality and principle. In principle, laws are good. They protect people and preserve order. In general, we ought to support the system of laws we live under, because it benefits us. There are rare cases where a law itself might be unjust and institutions deaf to demands for change; civil disobedience in such cases is a noble and sometimes inescapable act. But to disobey a law simply to make some money is a selfish act of disregard that achieves no greater aim. We ought instead to act in accordance with the laws so that when we need their protection we are fully deserving of it.

There are psychological reasons as well. Living with the knowledge that you have committed a crime can be unpleasant and draining; concealing such knowledge can add significant stress to an already stressful life. It can cause avoidance behavior, as mentioned above. It also can have a subtle undermining effect on your success. Feelings of guilt and a desire for self-punishment may arise that could make failure seem attractive as relief from guilt. You may find yourself wanting to fail, to lose the capital, as though losing it would erase the crime.

You may also come into deep psychological conflict with the man who has paid you to marry him. He may wish in some way to control you even though your relationship exists only on paper. He may want a piece of the business, or a piece of you. Anger or resentment at him might also fuel an unconscious wish for the business to fail.

Also significant is the fact that you, as a woman, will have sold yourself to a man, an act with deep and troubling implications for your self-regard. It may give rise to feelings of self-loathing and disgust, of failure and powerlessness. During the time of your sham marriage, to give it the appearance of reality you would have to live together as man and wife to all outward appearances, ready for unannounced visits from immigration authorities. This period would have to last for a certain period of time for your marriage to be considered legitimate and thus grounds for citizenship. During this time you would face innumerable conflicts regarding the conduct of your actual personal and emotional life. It may make having other healthy relations with men difficult. You might during this time meet a man you actually do want to marry, but would be unable to do so, and might lose him for good. He might like you but not want to have a relationship with you because of your sham marriage.

And then there is of course the unpleasant matter you raise of having to have sex with the man you marry. I doubt that you would be required to perform the act before a judge in order to prove that the marriage had been consummated. Presumably you could lie about it as you would be lying about many other things. But the fact that you raise it indicates that you do have some sense of delicacy about the issue. Perhaps though you are not a big fan of the institution of marriage itself you are still troubled by a feeling that such a fraud would be trampling on something sacred.

So all told I think it's a bad idea. It would be a much better idea to try to raise the capital legally, both for your own sake and for the sake of the business you plan to create.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • By Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Since You Asked