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A Conversation with Citizen Lobbyist & Immigration Fraud Victim Elena Maria Lopez
1. What made you start investigating immigration and marriage fraud?
In truth, I was having a mental breakdown and it was my way of dealing with it. My life, my safety, my finances and my sanity had all changed literally overnight. I was trying to figure out what was happening to me so I could better prepare myself for both a divorce and immigration proceedings.
I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone and that far too many other Americans are being scammed.
I also naively thought the immigration service should know that I was being scammed for my secret inheritance of citizenship – and that I sponsored in a violent criminal into the United States. Instead, the immigration bureaucracy didn’t care. It is so overwhelmed with fraud cases that unless you say you married a Muslim terrorist, they wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. Sadly, my husband knew this. Some of his last words to me were: “They’ll believe me rather than you. I’m clean cut, I have a good job – and I’m from Holland, not Arab.”
2. What kind of reaction did you get from your congressional members?
My U.S. Senator’s staff belittled my case as a “marriage dispute.” My U.S. Representative’s staff offered to help me sponsor someone else into the country, but refused to get involved in whistle blowing.
Now that I’m living back in New Jersey, I can’t even get Senator Cory Booker’s office to return my calls or e-mails. Senator Robert Menendez’s staff said he’ll do absolutely nothing to curtail any type of immigration. I assume that means legal, illegal and fraudulent.
Because I’m in hiding, I can’t identify myself to my current U.S. Representative in New Jersey.
3. What made you set up your Web site, ImmigrationFraud.com?
I started coming across other people scammed for a green card, which wasn’t hard since I lived in the North Jersey/New York area, one of the largest areas for incoming foreigners – legal, illegal and on temporary visas. Many people are trying to turn their temporary student, visitor or work status into permanent green cards and citizenship. The easiest and most common way to do that is with a quickie marriage to an American.
I couldn’t believe that nothing was out there to help people in my situation other than dry congressional testimony and court cases. I wanted other fraud victims to understand what was happening to them, as well as the immigration process. I did this in the hopes that some American victims could avoid the costly legal mistakes I made.
I had cleaned myself out with attorneys that offered no protections. Divorce and family law attorneys know next to nothing about immigration or marriage fraud, which leaves clients like me vulnerable. Immigration lawyers know all about it, but don’t want to help citizen spouses since their cases could set precedents and hurt their future client pool.
I also wanted to break down the problem for legislators, advocates and journalists so they could start accurately covering the issue.
4. Are you shocked by recent revelations about lax homeland security and Russia's alleged meddling in America's security?
No. Since I set up my Web site, I often catch disturbing trends by chance. Starting in 2012, I reached out to multiple government channels to warn them that Russian wives are getting around background checks by claiming to be domestic violence victims. This allows them to get fast tracked, legal immigration status thanks to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) -- and without all the proper vetting and background checks that would be required of regular green-card applicants.
These Russian wives have been quickly re-marring active military personnel or military contractors with high-level security clearances. These unvetted spouses often live on U.S. military bases – which is disturbing -- and then try to collect as many military spouse benefits as possible. Some then start the false abuse narrative, again, this time for supplemental military benefits.
Only within this past year has the F.B.I. followed up with these concerns.
5. When did you realize you crossed the line from victim to expert?
My big "ah-ha moment" was when an attorney called me in a panic about her own case. This attorney had a good relationship with her ex-husband and they shared custody of their teenage son. When the ex-husband’s new French wife claimed abuse to get a quick domestic violence green card, California authorities tried to put their son in foster care. She found herself hustling not only to keep her son from being put in foster care, but to find out why her ex-husband’s wife of barely two months would accuse him of something so out of character.
Two years earlier, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General had called me for cases and security trends. And I've also been contacted by private investigators, retired immigration officials and cited in think tank reports ... but helping an attorney with her own case is still a remarkable experience.