Call It What You Will


(Fact - Based on Memory)


















Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)



You may not think of a Probate and Family Court as a court involved in immigration but issues concerning green cards, deportation, and citizenship arise frequently. TMC recently ran a black and white movie, Hold Back the Dawn, that explored many of the same themes we see in court today.  In the movie, Charles Boyer plays a Romanian war refugee anxious to enter the United States. He is stuck in a small town on the Mexican side of the border along with many other hopeful immigrants, all awaiting news of their visa status.  When told that it would take 7 to 8 years for him to obtain permission to enter the United States, Boyer is despondent.  By chance, he meets a former lover played by Paulette Goddard who suggests to him that he do what she did: marry an American and shorten the waiting period to four weeks, then get a quick divorce once in the States.  Now you see where the thread connects to Probate and Family Court.


Bear with me while I set the scene using the same 1941 movie:  Boyer decides to follow her advice, cold-heartedly stalking potential victims.  He succeeds with a naÔve school teacher played by Olivia de Havilland, who is swept off her feet by the charming and intriguing foreigner. When Goddard, the former lover, senses that Boyer is actually falling in love with his new bride, she confronts de Havilland with the truth in this classic scene:


I know what youíre thinking. ĎThis woman is a tramp and sheís in love with him.í Well, I am a tramp and Iím in love with him. For years Iíve loved him just as you do. Only thereís this difference: Iím his sort, Iím dirt but so is he, we belong together. You think youíre a teacher, youíre a schoolgirl whoís learned life out of a book. Youíd have learned this lesson in six weeks or six months. Iím telling it to you in six minutes. Get away, get in your car and donít come back.


Youíll have to watch the film to see what de Haviland decides to do with this advice.    


In todayís courts it is not uncommon for an innocent party in such a scheme to file a Complaint for Annulment by alleging the marriage was based on a fraud. If he or she can establish that the marriage was entered into by the defendant solely to attain citizenship, there are grounds for the annulment and a good chance it will be granted.


Marriages for immigration purposes these days are frequently commercial transactions.  The immigrant pays the American to marry.  One of my cases involved a man who was paid thousands to marry a foreign woman.  For years thereafter, he extorted sexual favors from her by threatening to expose the scheme. 


In fact, extortion and threats of exposure and deportation are common allegations heard in Court. Witnesses often testify that the other party said that he/she would report them to immigration if they pursued their requests for custody, visitation, support, etc. in court. 


Then there was the case of the 17-year-old who came into court accompanied by his parents. The young man needed court permission to marry because he was not yet an adult.  He swore up, down and sideways that this was his true love that he wanted to marry.  A Marriage of a Minor request is always referred to our Family Service Office for brief investigation including interviews. Family Service quickly established that he barely knew his fiancťe and that the real issue was that he and his parents feared that he would be deported when he reached age 18.  The judge hearing the request, not wanting to put her blessing on fraudulent behavior, denied the young manís petition.       


Well, a few months later the young man was back in court again, this time before me.  He claimed he really had found his one true love this time, an entirely different bride who was much older than he and for whom he (again) expressed his undying love.  In court, the prospective bride appeared to be entirely unenthusiastic.  While I was sympathetic to the young manís plight and acknowledged his persistence, it was clear that this was another attempt to establish a fraudulent marriage purely to gain citizenship.  This was simply not something a court could authorize and stamp with its approval. Even though I denied his request, I dearly hoped that someday his story would have a happy ending.

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