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Increasing numbers of non-Cuban Hispanic immigrants are marrying Cuban immigrants, which speeds delivery of green cards for the non-Cubans.

Date: 2007-05-07

Either by chance or by design, a growing number of Venezuelans -- more than 2,000 since 2002 -- are marrying Cuban refugees on the fast track for green cards, and drawing scrutiny from U.S. immigration officials.

The escalation coincides with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's increasing ties to Cuba's Fidel Castro, which have prompted thousands of Venezuelans to flee and then overstay their visas in the United States. In South Florida, attorneys say marriages between Cuban refugees and Venezuelan immigrants top the list of non-Cubans marrying Cubans, followed by Colombians and Mexicans.

For undocumented immigrants, marrying a Cuban with a green card can be their ticket to staying in the United States -- and even a better deal than marrying a U.S. citizen. Non-Cubans married to U.S. citizens for less than two years obtain conditional residence, but those who marry Cubans with green cards can get permanent residence after a year.

Only a few hundred non-Cuban immigrants of various nationalities received green cards under the Cuban Adjustment Act between 1996 and 2001, but last year alone, more than 4,000 did across the country. Colombians, whose country has been swept up in civil strife for decades, led Venezuelans by a slim margin, followed by Peruvians and Argentines, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics.

''The sheer number of Colombians and Venezuelans now in South Florida makes it logical for them to encounter and marry Cubans,'' said immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen.

SUSPICION OF FRAUD

Jorge Rivera, a Miami immigration attorney, said non-Cuban green-card applications under the Cuban Adjustment Act are drawing increased attention from authorities, who suspect fraud in some cases.

''Some people have come in for sharp questioning when they apply under the Cuban Adjustment Act as non-Cuban spouses of Cuban refugees,'' Rivera said.

Two years ago, authorities denied green cards to several Cuban-Venezuelan couples after accusing them of ''arranging'' marriages so Venezuelans in deportation proceedings could obtain green cards, said an aide to attorney Eduardo Soto, who is now handling some of those cases.

Emilio González, head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said he is committed to stamping out immigration fraud.

''For much too long, the issues of asylum fraud, marriage fraud and naturalization fraud were being written off as no big deal,'' González said in a recent speech in Miami. ``Let me tell you something: It's a big deal, and we're going to tackle the fraud issues aggressively.''

As Chávez's government continues to move toward Cuban-style socialism, Venezuelan community leaders have begun to press Congress and the Bush administration for measures that would provide Venezuelan immigrants with a way to stay. But so far, their pleas have not caught Washington's attention.

Meanwhile, the number of Venezuelans marrying Cubans continues to rise.

Venezuelan Jorge Costa married Cuban Diley Nuñez, and they applied together for residence in 2005 and got it within a year. ''It was very fast,'' Costa said. ``A great benefit for non-Cubans.''

Costa, 38, and Nuñez, 35, knew about each other for years because Costa has relatives in Cuba. His father settled in Venezuela after Castro seized power in 1959.

''My wife and I find ourselves talking about the situations in our countries and how we are together now because of that,'' said Costa, a cable-television company employee in Miami.

Rolando Ruíz, of Fort Lauderdale, got his residence a year after arriving on a raft from Cuba in 2005, before he married Monica Rodríguez of Venezuela last Nov. 19 -- her birthday. She is still waiting for a background check to clear her for her green card.

Before she met Ruíz, Rodríguez, 25, was trying to figure out the quickest way to get a green card because her student visa was about to expire. She met Ruíz, 29, during a trip with mutual friends to Orlando's theme parks in December 2005.

''During the Orlando trip, we became good friends, and then we began to know each other better, and we began to go out, and then he proposed marriage to me and I said yes,'' she recalled.

Rodríguez said she was not aware of Ruíz's immigration status as a Cuban refugee when they began dating. She said she learned of the Cuban Adjustment Act's benefits when they consulted Allen, who said the couple came to see him shortly before they were married.

A POOR ENDING

Not all Cuban-Venezuelan marriages end well.

Yeminna Barreto divorced her Cuban husband and has filed for a green card as a battered spouse under a provision in immigration law that allows foreign nationals married to Cubans or U.S. citizens to seek residence if they are domestic-violence victims.

''He lied to me,'' Barreto said. ``He conned me into marrying him, bringing my children from Venezuela, and then he could do nothing for me and we became illegal.''

Barreto said immigration authorities denied their green-card applications when they discovered that he had a criminal past.





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