U.S. approved thousands of child bride requests — and it's legal

/ AP

Ending Child Marriage?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of requests by men to bring in child and adolescent brides to live in the United States were approved over the past decade, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission for a 15-year-old girl.

The approvals are legal: The Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements. And in weighing petitions for spouses or fiancees, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services goes by whether the marriage is legal in the home country and then whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives.

But the data raises questions about whether the immigration system may be enabling forced marriage and about how U.S. laws may be compounding the problem despite efforts to limit child and forced marriage. Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the United States, and most states allow children to marry with some restrictions.

There were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, according to the data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017 and compiled into a report.

Some victims of forced marriage say the lure of a U.S. passport combined with lax U.S. marriage laws are partly fueling the petitions.

"My passport ruined my life," said Naila Amin, a dual citizen from Pakistan who grew up in New York City.

She was forcibly married at 13 in Pakistan and applied for papers for her 26-year-old husband to come to the country.

"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."

Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed to her first cousin Tariq when she was just 8 and he was 21. The petition was eventually terminated after she ran away. She said the ordeal cost her a childhood. She was in and out of foster care and group homes, and it took a while to get her life on track.

"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.

There is a two-step process for obtaining U.S. immigration visas and green cards. Petitions are first considered by USCIS. If granted, they must be approved by the State Department. Overall, there were 3.5 million petitions received from budget years 2007 through 2017.

Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancees, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses, according to the data. Additionally, there were 204 for minors by minors. Petitions can be filed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

"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.

In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship. In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50, the committee found. Among the examples: In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old's petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica. A petition from a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his 17-year-old wife in Guatemala.

There are no nationwide statistics on child marriage, but data from a few states suggests it is far from rare. State laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet every state allows exceptions. Most states let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they have parental consent, and several states — including New York, Virginia and Maryland — allow children under 16 to marry with court permission.

Fraidy Reiss, who campaigns against coerced marriage as head of a group called Unchained at Last, researched data from her home state of New Jersey. She determined that nearly 4,000 minors, mostly girls, were married in the state from 1995 to 2012, including 178 who were under 15.

"This is a problem both domestically and in terms of immigration," she said.

Reiss — who says she was forced into an abusive marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19 — said that often cases of child marriage via parental consent involve coercion, with a girl forced to marry against her will.

"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."

The data was requested in 2017 by Johnson and then-Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the committee's top Democrat. Johnson said it took a year to get the information, showing there needs to be a better system to track and vet the petitions.

"Our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children," the senators said in the letter.

U.S. immigration officials approved thousands of requests for visas for child brides Data obtained by the Associated Press from the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

USCIS didn't know how many of the approvals were granted by the State Department, but overall only about 2.6 percent of spousal or fiancee claims are rejected.

Separately, the data show some 4,749 minor spouses or fiancees received green cards to live in the U.S. over that same 10-year period.

The head of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, said in a letter to the committee that their request had raised questions and discussion within the agency on what it can do to prevent forced minor marriages. The agency noticed some issues in how the data was collected and has resolved them. Officials also created a flagging system that requires verification of the birthdate whenever a minor is detected.

The country where most requests came from was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen. Middle Eastern nationals had the highest percentage of overall approved petitions.

First published on January 11, 2019

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

1247.jpg

U.S. approved thousands of child bride requests — and it's legal

The approvals are legal, but raise questions about whether the immigration system is enabling forced marriages

updated 5M ago

Trump floats "path to citizenship" for H-1B visa holders

It's unclear what the president is talking about, as the shutdown fight over the proposed border wall continues

updated 37M ago

California fights Trump administration birth control rules in court

Trump administration rules would allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control

updated 40M ago

Norovirus outbreak sickens hundreds on cruise ship

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is returning to a Florida port a day early after guests and crew members were hit with an outbreak of norovirus

updated 52M ago

Rare 1943 penny sells for $200,000, far below expectations

Experts predicted coin's auction price might reach or top $1 million

updated 50M ago

U.S. approved thousands of child bride requests — and it's legal

The approvals are legal, but raise questions about whether the immigration system is enabling forced marriages

updated 5M ago

Trump floats "path to citizenship" for H-1B visa holders

It's unclear what the president is talking about, as the shutdown fight over the proposed border wall continues

updated 37M ago

California fights Trump administration birth control rules in court

Trump administration rules would allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control

updated 40M ago

Shutdown suspends cleanups at Superfund sites

Many routine inspections aren't happening, with most of the agency's employees furloughed

1H ago

U.S. Syria withdrawal officially underway, expected to take 3-4 months

Small convoy reportedly pulls out amid confusion over Trump administration's plans, and intense pressure from Turkey

1H ago

Poland arrests Chinese businessman on spy charges

Internal Security Agency detains 1 Polish along with man reported to be an executive of telecom giant Huawei

updated 14M ago

U.S. Syria withdrawal officially underway, expected to take 3-4 months

Small convoy reportedly pulls out amid confusion over Trump administration's plans, and intense pressure from Turkey

1H ago

Myanmar rejects appeal of jailed journalists who claim set-up

Court upholds 2 Reuters journalists' widely condemned 7-year sentences, renewing doubts over Aung San Suu Kyi's "commitment" to democracy

4H ago

Once homeless, now the happiest bus driver in town

He went from a vicious cycle of violence, drugs and homelessness to being named the happiest bus driver in London – and absolutely loving life

17H ago

Trump cancels Switzerland trip over shutdown standoff

Trump says he's canceling trip to World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that starts later this month

18H ago

"Baby Shark" swims onto Billboard Hot 100

The chart is usually the home of music's biggest stars and songs, but a new version of the old children's song hit No. 32, in its debut

3H ago

Why "Hamilton" in Puerto Rico changed venues weeks before opening night

Facing expected protests, the Broadway hit relocated from a historic theater at the University of Puerto Rico

11H ago

R. Kelly's attorney says there are "no facts" to back up sexual assault allegations

"Surviving R. Kelly" details sexual and domestic abuse allegations against the singer

10H ago

John David Washington on "BlacKkKlansman's" "gut-punching" scene

John David Washington portrays Ron Stallworth, the black cop who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s

17H ago

Remembering "The Sopranos," 20 years after its debut

Two decades after the acclaimed show hit airwaves, a look back at 60 Minutes' interviews with creator David Chase and star James Gandolfini

16H ago

Lawmakers demand answers from data providers over sale of location data

A report finds T-Mobile and other providers sold data to third parties

13H ago

Emissions rise despite support for green energy

Most Americans say they support renewable energy, but what will it take to get there?

13H ago

Senator wants law that could jail tech execs for tracking users' location

The proposal comes as the makers of the Weather Channel app are accused of marketing the locations of its users without their knowledge

Jan 10

101-year-old inventor has plan to battle climate change

Charlie Bliss and his 81-year-old business partner are known as the thermodynamics duo

Jan 9

CES 2019 highlights and products so far

This year's show covers over 2.9 million square feet with gadgets and technologies that have the potential to change the lives of billions of people

Jan 9

Norovirus outbreak sickens hundreds on cruise ship

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is returning to a Florida port a day early after guests and crew members were hit with an outbreak of norovirus

updated 52M ago

Starbucks to install needle-disposal boxes in some bathrooms

Move follows complaints by workers worried about potential health risks of cleaning up after drug users

17H ago

Patients-turned-friends receive historic triple transplants

Both needed a procedure so rare it had only been done 15 times in U.S. history

18H ago

Overdose deaths skyrocket in middle-aged women

A new CDC report exposes the devastating effects of the drug crisis on American women

18H ago

Government shutdown halts some FDA food inspections

The FDA does about 160 routine food inspections a week but since the shutdown inspections have been sharply reduced

Jan 10

Poland arrests Chinese businessman on spy charges

Internal Security Agency detains 1 Polish along with man reported to be an executive of telecom giant Huawei

updated 14M ago

Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.6M vehicles over dangerous air bags

Inflators made Japan's Takata can explode with too much force and have killed at least 23 people

13H ago

U.S. sportswear supplier ends tie to Chinese factory in internment camp

Badger Sportswear said Wednesday it will no longer do business with the apparel maker in China's far west

16H ago

Fiat Chrysler settles emissions-cheating case with U.S.

Beyond a $300 million fine, the deal also includes payments to Jeep and Ram owners of about $2,800 each

8H ago

Jay Powell: "I don't see a recession" in 2019

The Federal Reserve chief also says he'll be "patient" with rate hikes while looking at the global economic picture

17H ago

Missing teen found in men's shoes 3 months after parents murdered

The nearly three-month long search for the missing 13-year-old​ is over as the mystery over what happened to her and her parents deepens

1H ago

Cop on force only 2 weeks shot dead as she responds to car accident

"Rising star in the department" was at scene of three car accident when she was shot

updated 45M ago

Teen missing since October found alive, police say

Closs disappeared the same day her parents were found shot to death; a suspect is in custody

3H ago

R. Kelly's attorney says there are "no facts" to back up sexual assault allegations

"Surviving R. Kelly" details sexual and domestic abuse allegations against the singer

10H ago

Vegas police seek Ronaldo's DNA in rape investigation

A Nevada woman claims that the international soccer star raped her in his Las Vegas hotel penthouse in 2009

14H ago

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here