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For purposes of the statute of limitations, a fraudulent marriage for immigration benefits is committed on the date of the marriage

In U.S. v. Rojas, the defendant and his wife were indicted and convicted of marriage fraud, in violations of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c). On this appeal, Rojas challenged his conviction arguing that the indictment fell outside the five-year statute of limitations. Specifically, he argued that statute of limitations for his offense began to run on the date of his marriage. The court of appeals agreed and concluded that the date that the crime of marriage fraud is complete is the date of the marriage. For this reason the indictment was time barred.

After the defendants were married, Rojas’ wife sent U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) an application to apply for Permanent Residence Status. The wife was an Argentinian citizen who had overstayed her visa. Rojas was a U.S. citizen. The application included a copy of their marriage certificate showing they were married April 23, 2007. During the interview conducted by immigration, certain discrepancies arose in their documentation and their answers. When the investigators confronted them with suspicions of marriage fraud they both admitted that the marriage was entered into to help the wife obtain her U.S. residency. The government indicted the defendants on April 27, 2012, and a motion to dismiss the indictment was filed in the district court.

Under § 1325(c), marriage fraud is committed by any individual that enters a marriage for the purpose of evading a provision of the immigration laws. The statute of limitations provision states that no person shall be prosecuted for any offense unless the indictment is returned within five years after the offense is committed. The statute of limitations begins to run when the crime is complete. The 11th Circuit’s interpretation of the language of the marriage fraud statute elements showed that the elements require that 1) the defendant enter into the marriage and 2) for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration law. The court found the defendants did in fact enter into the marriage for that purpose. While the application for immigration benefits may serve as the circumstantial evidence of the unlawful purpose of the marriage, the plain language of the marriage fraud statute does not require a defendant to take the additional step for filing for immigration benefits in order for the crime to be complete. The 11th Circuit rejected the government’s arguments that the crime was not complete and the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the defendants were interviewed by immigration officials on August 24 2009, at which time they became aware of the fraud. The 11th Circuit disagreed with the government’s argument that the offense was a continuing crime. A continuing crime continues to be perpetrated and extends the statute of limitations. The 11th Circuit concluded that offenses should not be considered continuing offenses unless the specific language compels that conclusion. The fact that the offense uses the explicit language “enter into” means the offense occurs on the date the marriage takes place.

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