Thousands of requests to bring child brides to the US were approved by immigration services between 2007 and 2017, a new government reports shows. The “loophole” bears grave dangers for minors, especially girls, the paper warns.
The United States claims to be a strong opponent of child marriage around the world. But a fresh report – explicitly entitled “How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages” – paints a different picture. The document for the Senate Homeland Security Committee says that the American authorities themselves approved thousands of petitions and visas for spousal or fiancé immigration benefits for marriages involving minors.
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), US adults are eligible to petition for a visa for a minor spouse or fiancé, who lives abroad. A US child also has a right to petition for a spouse or fiancé living in a foreign state. Requests are first sent to the citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) who determine if the relationship is legitimate or not. Applicants are required to provide evidence which proves a “family relationship.” Approved requests are then sent to the State Department who decides if they will issue a visa.
While the exact number of approvals is unknown, the latest report shows that there were 8,686 applications filed involving minors, and nearly 5,000 of the requests eventually resulted in a green card being issued.
The INA has given assurances that such requests are totally legal: the law sets no limit on the number of applicants for relatives and includes no specifications on age limits.
That “loophole” bears grave dangers for girls, the Senate paper warns, citing the non-profit Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation. It leaves “the most vulnerable children, often girls promised to adult men, defenseless to families who hope to offer U.S. citizenship in exchange for a marital agreement.”
One of the cases, brought up in the document involved a 71 year-old-man applying for admission for a 17 year-old-girl from Guatemala. The girl was younger than her spouse or fiancé in 95% of the cases examined.
Victims are often lured into agreement over the chance to obtain a US passport and escape the poverty or violence of their home country, if not forced outright by their parents. Although the highest number of requests from a single country came from Mexico, the majority of requests were from Middle Eastern nationals from Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen.
The Senators who spearheaded the report, now hope it will motivate reforms to the INA.
“It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close,” said Republican senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Child marriage is not only an issue imported from outside through a loophole, it is also a rampant problem domestically. Age limits in the US are set on a state-by-state basis, and many states have no limits at all.
According to data collected by PBS’s Frontline program, some 200,000 minors were legally married in the United States between 2000 and 2015. Fraidy Reiss of Unchained at Last, a group which campaigns against coerced marriage, told AP that many girls “are subjected to a lifetime of domestic servitude and rape.”
That is a huge problem “both domestically and in terms of immigration,” she argued.
Like this story? Share it with a friend!