Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Proposal: Scamming Your Way into the Country, One Canadian at a Time

The Proposal (2009)

Margaret is a Canadian and a demanding editor at a publishing house. After she is unable to renew her work visa, she blackmails her assistant Andrew to marry her so she can stay in the country. In exchange, she'll make him an editor. To help convince a nosy immigration agent, Margaret goes with Andrew back to his hometown of Sitka, Alaska, for the celebration of his grandmother's 90th birthday. Over the weekend, Andrew's family comes to accept Margaret and welcome her into the family. In fact, they want Margaret and Andrew to marry before they need to go back to New York at the end of the weekend.

Andrew's grandmother, excited that she'll live to see her only grandson wed and believing that Andrew and Margaret's relationship is not a sham, gives Margaret a piece of jewelry that has been in the family for years. Margaret accepts the gift, but she later calls off the wedding because she regrets what she's doing to Andrew and his family.

Issue: Did Margaret commit a crime in accepting the gift?

False pretenses is the obtaining of another's property through a false representation of an existing fact.

Analysis: Probably. Margaret convinces Andrew's grandmother that she and Andrew are in a romantic relationship and are going to get married. Based on this false representation, she gets (even though she doesn't ask for) the antique jewelry. While this is a weak case because she returns the property shortly thereafter (and--spoiler alert--she and Andrew marry for real in the end), these facts are probably enough to satisfy the test for false pretenses.

Bonus: As mentioned in the movie, marriage fraud is a federal offense. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(c), you cannot enter into a marriage "for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws . . . ." The penalty is imprisonment for no more than five years and a fine up to $250,000. A separate provision also makes it a crime to create a business to evade immigration laws (think mail-order brides).

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