Kyle Haney thought he found the love of his life.
On a mission trip to India with his sister and a friend, Haney met Tabitha, the friend’s sister, both of whom were originally from India. He told NBC Washington that it felt like he had known Tabitha his whole life.
"We just clicked. It's like we just found each other," Haney said.
Six months later, Tabitha visited Haney where he lives in Texas, and he proposed. Just a few months later, they were married and expecting a child.
"[We] had a baby in November, and in March the following year, she got her green card,” Haney said. “And within two months she left."
Haney was confused. Then he saw Tabitha’s “petition for divorce.” She claimed that he had anger issues, may have been homosexual, and made her feel unsafe. She also said he intimidated her by using her immigrant status, Haney’s sister Jade told NBC.
The Haney family did some research, and quickly found something odd.
“We started noticing a correlation between the lies that she was telling and everything that needed to be proved by the person to file VAWA [the Violence Against Women Act]," Haney’s sister said.
Tabitha's attorney sent NBC's Dallas station a statement reading, "Kyle Haney made misleading statements and outright lies during his interview."
VAWA is a wide-ranging law originally designed to protect women, but its scope and consequences were expanded greatly when it was reauthorized in 2013. It is up for reauthorization again this year.
Haney's family thinks Tabitha used a provision of VAWA that allows abused immigrants to petition for legal status on their own, without their spouse. The original intention of the provision was to help abused immigrants, who may be afraid to report abuse if they rely on their spouse for their immigration status. This provision, however, appears to have led to a growing number of “marriage fraud” claims, wherein an immigrant falsely accuses their spouse of abuse in order to gain their citizenship and start a life of their own. Conveniently, VAWA keeps the government from investigating marriage-fraud claims.
"They're now using VAWA as a means by which to escape the two-year requirement to remain in the marital relationship, without drawing any suspicion to themselves," John Sampson, a retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, told NBC.
He also said he suspected a lot of the VAWA claims he saw during his time with ICE were actually fraudulent. He says some 1,500 Americans have contacted him believing they’re victims of this trend.
Sampson told NBC that investigators treat American spouses as a “prohibited source of information” during VAWA abuse claims. Because the immigrant is automatically assumed to be telling the truth, thus requiring safety, ICE investigators don’t even inform the American spouse of the abuse claim. There’s literally no downside for immigrants to fraudulently make such a claim.
Haney is not alone. NBC Washington has previously reported on marriage fraud, and said since their original report that 30 more potential victims have contacted the station. And it doesn’t just affect men. NBC previously spoke to a woman referred to only as Elena, who says she was duped by her Dutch ex-husband after two years of marriage. "'Just sign the divorce papers' he said, 'We only did this for immigration' - and I was floored," Elena said at the time. In her case, her husband didn’t claim abuse, but used another immigration law that states the couple needed to be married for two years before his green-card conditions would be lifted.
Victims of marriage fraud have received some hope in recent days. On July 9, Haney and his family, and many others who say they were victims of marriage fraud, met with justice and homeland security policy staffers. Haney hopes the Trump administration will provide help, since the president campaigned as being tough on illegal immigration.
“I felt really good about it," Haney told NBC. "We got our points across. I feel like they are actually going to do something about the issue."