Reality TV to help immigrants find a wife – and a US visa
California's latest addition to the reality television opus is set to focus on the hopes, dreams and heartbreak of would-be immigrants into the United States and it promises to cross some borders of its own – those of decency and good taste.
Who Wants to Marry a US Citizen? has yet to land a network deal, admit executives from Morusa Media in Los Angeles, but they have already selected a first pool of contestants and are in talks with at least one cable distributor.
Each episode would feature a panel of three foreign-born men already in the US on temporary visas – or illegally – submitting to questions from an American bachelorette. Only one would finally be chosen to join her in matrimony. The more important prize, however, would be the chance to circumvent the visa-application process and secure permanent residency.
"It's this generation's Dating Game, but with a twist," said Adrian Martinez of Morusa Media. "It aims to show love knows no borders. Besides, that is what America is about: a multi-cultural nation."
Just how heartwarming an immigration incarnation of the dating show formula would be is open to some doubt, however. Its creators clearly mean to exploit the rise of illegal immigration as a hot-button issue in the presidential election season as well as the desperation of millions of foreign-born nationals struggling to stay in a country that is increasingly hostile to them.
If the show is picked up, its creators may also be accused of fomenting unethical, if not illegal, activity. Marrying a US citizen for the sole purpose of obtaining a Green Card, which extends residency rights, rather than for love is considered fraudulent by immigration authorities.
The host, Angelo Gonzalez, is adamant that the show is more about Valentines than visas. "We're just out to play matchmaker," he said. "There are thousands of US citizens seeking a spouse, and just as many immigrants seeking the same. So we want to make it a win-win situation for all involved."
But sceptics might want to see the show's website www.hookacitizen.com. A crummily-produced video segment shows three young men – all Hispanics – promising undying affection and loyalty to the long-haired American woman interviewing them. It ends with the teaser: "One will win and get to stay in the country ... two will probably be deported."
The company has also issued this caution: while it will pay for the winner's wedding and honeymoon when it comes to the tricky task of actually acquiring a Green Card from the government it can guarantee absolutely nothing. In other words, with this programme, just about everyone involved could end up going South, but not, the producers trust, the ratings.