Friday, December 29, 2006

Ochoa-Amaya v. Gonzales (9th Cir. - Dec. 29, 2006)

Sometimes fraud only gets you into trouble, my friends.

Ochoa-Amaya illegally enters the United States (with his parents) in 1985, when he's 7 years old. Seven years later, in 1992, Ochoa-Amaya's father -- who's a lawful permanent resident -- files a visa petition on behalf of his wife and children, including Ochoa-Amaya. But five years later, in 1997, Ochoa-Amaya effectively terminates this petition (as applied to him, anyway) once he married a U.S. citizen. Since now he's entitled to adjustment of status on his own account, based upon his marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Sounds fine, right? Except for one thing. Do you find it just a tiny bit fishy that the bride chosen by Ochoa-Amaya -- who was 19 years old at the time -- was a spunky 74 year-old U.S. citizen? Perhaps true love knows no boundaries? Or maybe -- just maybe -- something else is at work here.

As it happens, a couple of months after he "marries" his 74 year-old bride, Ochoa-Amaya gets caught crossing the border illegally (after returning from Mexico from, sadly enough, his brother's funeral). This would be no problem, right, since he's married to a U.S. citizen. Except for one thing. One of the dangers of marrying a 74 year-old in order to obtain citizenship is the very real possibility that your spouse might die before the INS adjusts your status. Which, indeed, happens here. Which in turn means that Ochoa-Amaya is up (a smelly) creek without the proverbial paddle. He would have had his status adjusted due to his father's application if he hadn't gotten married; indeed, the rest of his siblings became lawful permanent residents in that way. But since he went the marriage route, his status as a child doesn't work anymore, and once his spouse dies, that route to lawful status doesn't work either. Which means that Ochoa-Amaya gets deported, and Judge Trott affirms.

There's another way to look at what transpired here, of course. Perhaps true love -- a love so strong that it both survived and flourished notwithstanding the flouting of social convention and intense public scorn -- between the 19-year old Ochoa-Amaya and his 74 year-old soulmate led, in the end, to tragedy, including the banishment of Ochoa-Amaya from country he's known and loved since he was 7 years old.

That's a possibility, obviously. And, if so, a tragic lesson. But, honestly, I think that the more likely lesson to be learned is that fraud doesn't pay. And that's one that makes me far less sad.