Activists against the practice of securing child brides are stunned to learn that U.S. law actually allows for children to be brought into the country as spouses.
According to government data obtained by the Associated Press, thousands and thousands of men have requested to escort in their child and adolescent brides to live with them in the past decade. As the AP reports, those requests were all approved because the Immigration and Nationality Act doesn’t set a minimum age requirement for a person’s spouse or fiance.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also considers whether a marriage is legal in the spouse or fiance’s home country, and is then legal in the state where the petitioner lives.
People believe that the immigration system is enabling forced marriage and that U.S. laws are only allowing this practice to continue. Several states, including New York, Virginia, and Maryland, allow children younger than 16 to marry, with court permission.
Naila Amin, a dual citizen born in Pakistan who grew up in New York City, was betrothed when she was just 8-years-old and the man was 21. The petition was approved by immigration officials, but because she ran away from home, the child bride union fell through.
“I was a child. I want to know: Why weren’t any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don’t look at it? They don’t think?” Amin asked.
She grew up in the foster care system, bouncing from home to home, then was forcibly married at age 13 in Pakistan where she claimed she was sexually assaulted and beaten. She returned to the U.S. and applied for papers for her 26-year-old husband to enter the U.S. and join her, because she was expected to.
“People die to come to America,” she said. “I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it.”
Fraidy Reiss campaigns against coerced marriage. She heads up a group called Unchained At Last. Reiss herself was forced into an abusive marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19.
“They are subjected to a lifetime of domestic servitude and rape,” she said. “And the government is not only complicit; they’re stamping this and saying: Go ahead.”
She shared that an underage girl was brought to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage. She was abandoned at the airport after she miscarried.
“This is a problem both domestically and in terms of immigration,” she said.
According to the AP, a two-step process exists for obtaining U.S. immigration visas and green cards. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services considers the petitions first and if granted, they must be approved by the State Department. From 2007 to 2017, more than 3.5 million petitions were submitted for approval.
During that time, there were 5,556 approvals for applicants seeking to bring minor spouses or fiances into the U.S. and 2,926 applicant approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses. In almost all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship.
“It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told the AP.
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