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 leagues."
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 insure 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.