Di Pietro: Federal Court of Appeals in Eleventh Circuit Upholds Criminal Conviction for Arranging Marriages Between Illegal Immigrants and U.S. Citizens

On Friday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where lawyers go when appealing a federal civil or criminal case that comes out of Georgia, Florida, or Alabama, issued its opinion in United States v. Di Pietro. Linsy Di Pietro was convicted of arranging marriages between illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens to help the immigrants obtain permanent legal status. The Court affirmed the district court’s refusal to dismiss the indictment on vagueness and preemption grounds.

Vagueness Ms. Di Pietro was convicted of aiding and abetting violations of 8 U.S.C. ยง 1325(c). That federal statute prohibits marriage fraud: knowingly entering “into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws.” She argued that, although the statute clearly prohibited her conduct, it is void for vagueness as applied to others. She further argued that the statute implicates the right to marry, and hence the First Amendment, requiring a heightened vagueness standard. The Court rejected her vagueness challenge because “a plaintiff who engages in some conduct that is clearly proscribed cannot complain of the vagueness of the law as applied to others.” There is no exception for vagueness challenges implicating the First Amendment.

Preemption In what the Court called a “novel” argument, Ms. Di Pietro also asserted that Florida’s marriage laws, which she said allow such marriages of convenience, preempted the federal statute. Preemption is based upon the Supremacy Clause, providing a basis for invalidating state or local laws when they conflict with laws of the United States. Ms. Di Pietro’s argument “turn[ed] the Supremacy Clause on its head.” State laws cannot trump federal laws, so preemption “does Ms. Di Pietro no good.”

The full opinion is available here.