Last weekend’s highest-grossing film at the box office was the new rom-com from Buena Vista Pictures “The Proposal,” starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Bullock plays Margaret, the big-bad-book editor-boss (think Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” but 20 years younger and sans the signature “that’s all” line) from Canada who blackmails her tail-between-his-legs assistant (Reynolds) into marrying her in order to escape her deportation order.
From an immigration perspective, there are several aspects of the film that are just laughable. “Immigration” is still referred to as “INS.” Mr. Adjudicator follows the happy couple all the way from New York City to Alaska in order to expose their fraudulent marriage (he must be operating under a different budget than the “real INS”). And the best, by far, was when Ms. Margaret and her “fiancé” marched down to the USCIS office in Federal Plaza on a Friday afternoon, jump line, and are granted an interview for the following Monday (and I thought USCIS had made great strides getting wait times down to about four months!).
There was absolutely no accuracy to the representation of the immigration process for a family petition. However, while not the primary focus, the film touches on a huge problem in the US immigration system: people entering into fraudulent marriages for the purposes of immigration benefits. I’m sure at some time or another, we’ve all suspected a client of entering into a marriage with “ulterior motives,” but do we ever stop to consider why this is becoming a trend? In an immigration system that allows so few options for people seeking relief – be it economic, social, religious, or political relief – many turn to marriage fraud as a last resort. Because, if you think about it, at the very worst, you get sent home anyway, and at the very best, you get a shot at the American Dream. And for folks coming from faraway places with zero economic opportunity, rocky political climate or lack of freedom, pretty much any risk is worth taking to avoid a one-way return ticket.
The film is lighthearted in nature, but hopefully it will also bring to light some of the issues that this country needs to seriously address – and SOON. There must be more legal avenues through which to immigrate. There must be a greater number of visas allotted for workers in order to accommodate our 21st century economy. And there must be greater humanitarian considerations in the adjudication process. Perhaps if we can work towards these changes and reforms, we will see less instances of fraud and more instances of legitimacy; less instances of undocumented workers being exploited and more instances of companies paying everyone a fair wage; less instances of divided families and more instances of unification. For book editors or busboys, the system has to work for everyone, but first and foremost, it has to WORK.