Marriage Penalty: Visa Woes Plague Dominican

Another year, another Dominican visa scandal.

The U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic has announced that 10
minor league players who were caught in a fraudulent marriage scheme
this offseason have been permanently banned from receiving visas. As a
result, the players’™ careers in the United States are effectively over.

An embassy official declined to name the 10 players, citing privacy laws regarding visa applications.

“It always seems like it’s something in the Dominican,” said Raymond
Abreu, the Athletics’™ coordinator of Dominican Republic scouting.
“Every year there is a new story, new problem or new controversy. It’s
very unfortunate for players who are trying to make it to the big

More than 30 players are believed to be under investigation for
participating in the scheme, according to scouts and club officials
familiar with the situation. The scheme involved players being paid
$5,000-$7,000 to get married, with the new wife receiving a visa. The
newlyweds do not know each other and divorce soon after arriving on
U.S. soil.

The woman would be left with a visa’"possibly to be sold again on the
black market’"while the player was supposed to just go on with his life.

“All of a sudden,” said one club official, “lots of guys were
showing up to get a visa, and 30 all got married three weeks ago. That
kind of raised some eyebrows.”

Since the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, visa
enforcement became more stringent. With proper documentation now
required, various players’ ages and identities came into question,
leading to name changes and age changes for nearly 300 players. And
last year the U.S. limited the number of work visas available to enter
the country and also tightened the timetable to apply for those visas,
causing many foreign players to remain outside the country.

“We are saddened to learn that some players in the Dominican
Republic who are under contract to Major League organizations have
apparently violated the immigration laws of the United States and are
suffering the consequences of their actions by losing their
opportunities to play here. We have cooperated with the United States
Embassy in this investigation and support the United States Government
completely in the enforcement of the immigration laws,” said Sandy
Alderson, MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations.

According to a release from the embassy, it is working with
Major League Baseball on each of these cases, and MLB was cooperating
with the investigations. MLB has further warned other Dominican players
about the consequences of fraudulent applications for U.S. visas.

“Over the past several years, the embassy has worked with Major
League Baseball to ensure that qualified players in the Dominican
Republic are given the opportunity to play baseball in the United
States,” the statement said, “while emphasizing that U.S. consular
officials will enforce U.S. law in the cases of any players who submit
fraudulent visa applications.”

Baseball America will continue to follow this developing story
throughout the spring. Another wave of visa ineligibility could come to
light in April, when Dominican players reporting for extended spring
training are due to arrive.

Update: The New York Times reported that the Yankees
had three players–righthanders Miguel Aguero, Juan De Leon and Maximo
Nelson–involved in the scheme.

Of the identities revealed in the scandal thus far, Nelson is
the most high-profile player involved. The 22-year-old went 6-3, 2.63
in 55 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season and
ranked as the No. 30 prospect in the Yankees’ system.

De Leon, 23, went 2-3, 2.93 in 61 innings for high Class A Tampa, and Aguero, 24, spent the entire season on the suspended list.

The Orioles also believe one of their players, righthander
Wilkin Felix, is a victim of the scheme. Felix, who turns 22 on March
16, went 2-2, 3.05 with five saves at Rookie-level Bluefield last year.

The remainder of the names are being protected by privacy laws
by the U.S. Embassy, though they are likely to be revealed eventually,
according to an official at MLB.

“I think what you are going to see over time is players who
simply cannot enter the U.S. and that will be called into question,”
the official said. “There are a lot of players experiencing visa
difficulties that are not involved in this scandal. But the players who
have participated in this (fraud) will become known. It is just a
matter of time before the public–as well as the organizations
themselves in some cases–finds out who they are.”