The case is unusual, but marriage fraud isn't, officials say
Since becoming an attorney in 1989, David Agatstein has built up a successful law practice helping clients with personal-injury, criminal, domestic, and immigration matters. Martin says his client was nabbed as a result of an earlier federal investigation into an Eastern Shore “Marriage broker” named Richard Hatfield who became a government cooperator. “On the Eastern Shore,” Martin continues, “There are many employees from Eastern Europe who come here, get in on a work visa for the summer, and then they’d find some way to stay.” Some would go to Hatfield for help in fraudulently marrying U.S. citizens in order to become lawful permanent residents and get on a path to citizenship, according to Agatstein’s plea agreement, which says Agatstein “Knowingly assisted up to five aliens to submit immigration petitions” based on false information. On one of those visits, Agatstein was recorded saying, “I’ve never seen a case where they’ve prosecuted a spouse when the marriage was a fraud in a long, long time.” “It’s been going on forever,” Martin says of immigration marriage fraud, recalling that the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office brought such cases decades ago, when he was a federal prosecutor. City Paper was unable to find another such case in Maryland on the online federal-courts database, known as PACER. The case against Agatstein was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations. ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas calls marriage fraud “a commonly employed tactic” used “To unlawfully obtain legitimate immigration benefits.” She describes a typical case involving “a broker or facilitator” who recruits a U.S. citizen to marry an alien “Who may or may not already be” in this country. “The alien pays the broker as much as $60,000,” she continues, and the U.S. citizen “Can earn approximately $5,000 to $10,000.” The citizen “Then files materially false paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” and “The sham couple also appears before USCIS for an interview, in which they provide false statements about their ‘marriage’ and life together.” David North, a longtime immigration expert who writes for the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., says, “The number of times the government says no to a visa-creating marriage is low, though occasionally something pops up and something is done about it. Generally, the issue of immigration marriage fraud is back-burnered. I don’t sense a lot of urgency on the part of the government for coping with this.” Navas highlights several recent prosecutions and enforcement data to contend the federal government is making life difficult for marriage fraudsters. “Trying to prove that two people don’t really love each other is very hard,” he says-especially since “The vast majority of marriage frauds are one-sided, in which the American thinks, Hey, I’m in love, while the alien is just using the marriage to get immigration benefits.” Seminara and North both say it’s hard to say how many of the approximately quarter-million visa-creating marriages each year are fraudulent, but of those that are, those that involve both spouses working together to hoodwink the system are a minority. In Maryland, Agatstein’s case is among more than a dozen prosecutions involving marriage fraud in the last decade, according to court records and government press releases reviewed by City Paper. In addition to Agatstein and Hatfield, who in 2009 was sentenced to three months’ probation, the Eastern Shore investigation resulted in the convictions of two others for marriage fraud: Siarhei Dziamiadau, a citizen of Belarus who received a 10-month prison sentence, and Nino Taraeva, a Georgian who was put on a year’s probation. ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ William Winter, the special agent in charge in Baltimore, has some cautionary words to others who, like Agatstein, would facilitate marriage fraud. “Marriage fraud poses a significant vulnerability to our national security and exploits America’s legal immigration system. Whether you are marrying one person under false pretenses or various people, or facilitating the fraud, know this-you will be found, arrested, and held accountable for your actions.”
RHODES v. CHAPMAN
The District Court made extensive findings of fact about SOCF on the basis of evidence presented at trial and the court’s own observations during an inspection that it conducted without advance notice. On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, petitioners argued that the District Court’s conclusion must be read, in light of its findings, as holding that double celling is per se unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals disagreed; it viewed the District Court’s opinion as holding only that double celling is cruel and unusual punishment under the circumstances at SOCF. It affirmed, without further opinion, on the ground that the District Court’s findings were not clearly erroneous, its conclusions of law were “Permissible from the findings,” and its remedy was a reasonable response to the violations found. A. The Eighth Amendment, in only three words, imposes the constitutional limitation upon punishments: they cannot be “Cruel and unusual.” The Court has interpreted these words “In a flexible and dynamic manner,” Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 171, and has extended the Amendment’s reach beyond the barbarous physical punishments at issue in the Court’s earliest cases. In assessing claims that conditions of confinement are cruel and unusual, courts must bear in mind that their inquiries “Spring from constitutional requirements and that judicial answers to them must reflect that fact rather than a court’s idea of how best to operate a detention facility.” Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S., at 539. The court found that adequate lawbooks were available, even to inmates in protective or disciplinary confinement, to allow effective access to court. The basis of the District Court’s assertion as to the amount of time that inmates spend in their cells does not appear in the court’s opinion. No one familiar with litigation in this area could suggest that the courts have been overeager to usurp the task of running prisons, which, as the Court today properly notes, is entrusted in the first instance to the “Legislature and prison administration rather than a court.” Ante, at 349. The Commissioner of Corrections of New York City, a defendant in many lawsuits challenging jail and prison conditions, has stated: “Federal courts may be the last resort for us …. If there’s going to be change, I think the federal courts are going to have to force cities and states to spend more money on their prisons…. I look on the courts as a friend.” Gettinger, “Cruel and Unusual” Prisons, 3 Corrections Magazine 3, 5. III. A reviewing court is generally limited in its perception of a case to the findings of the trial court. 16 The District Court in this case was unable to identify any actual signs that the double celling at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility has seriously harmed the inmates there; 17 indeed, the court’s findings of fact suggest that crowding at the prison has not reached the point of causing serious injury. Among the States in which prisons or prison systems have been placed under court order because of conditions of confinement challenged under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are: Alabama, see Pugh v. Locke, 406 F. Supp. After extensive hearings concerning the effect of court litigation on the correction of unconstitutional conditions in state-operated institutions, Congress emphatically endorsed the role of the courts in the area by passing the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, Pub. Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, cited by both JUSTICE BRENNAN, and by JUSTICE MARSHALL in dissent here, was, I believe, one of the first cases in which a federal court examined state penitentiary practices and held them to be violative of the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of “Cruel and unusual punishments.” I sat on that appeal, and I was privileged to write the opinion for a unanimous panel of the court. The Court goes further, adding some unfortunate dicta that may be read as a warning to federal courts against interference with a State’s operation of its prisons.