A huge loophole in Washington’s messy immigration laws has paved the way for over 8,000 child marriages, mostly to girls brought in from outside the country, including 14-year-olds, according to a new Senate report released Friday morning.
In one case, a 71-year-old won a visa for a 17-year-old from Guatemala, according to the bipartisan report from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Reform Committee chaired by Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
The report, the product of a year-long investigation, puts attention on a quirk in policies that promote child marriages and trafficking in the U.S. at a time when the State Department is fighting child marriages overseas.
It also shines a light on the complicated and sometimes contradictory web of immigration laws that President Trump and some in Congress are trying to rewrite and reform.
“U.S. law and U.S. Department of State policy aim to prevent and reduce the risks of child marriages occurring around the world, yet major loopholes in U.S. law have allowed thousands of minors to be subjected to child marriages,” the committee’s report said.
“Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a U.S. child may petition for a visa for a spouse or fiance living in another country, and a U.S. adult may petition for a visa for a minor spouse or fiance living abroad,” it stated.
In total, the committee estimated that over the past 11 years, mostly under the Obama era, 8,686 visas for child spouses or fiances were approved.
“In 95 percent of the cases, the younger person was a girl,” said the report. Many were from Latin America.
And overall, more than 3 million of the spousal and fiance visas were OK’d over that time.
The report has shocked many. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton tweeted, “Horrifying: ‘US approved thousands of child bride requests.’ Yet, not surprising that our immigration system is complicit in supporting #childmarriage.”
Some of those seeking visas were older citizens, others were to very young citizens seeking to bring their spouses into the U.S., including those who were forced into marriage overseas and encouraged to bring their spouses to America.
Said the report, “USCIS awarded petitions to people with significant age differences, including a 71-year-old U.S. citizen’s petition for a 17-year-old spouse from Guatemala and a 14-year-old’s petition for a 48-year-old spouse from Jamaica. USCIS approved 149 petitions involving a minor with an adult spouse or fiance who was more than 40 years old.”
In one case, the committee spoke with a U.S. citizen forced to marry her first cousin during a family vacation to Pakistan. “USCIS approved her petition for a spousal immigration benefit for her cousin when she was 13-years-old after she returned to the United States. She is just one of the thousands of U.S. women and girls forced into a child marriage involving the U.S. immigration system,” said the report, titled, “How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages.”
Getting a visa for a spouse or fiance requires an approval from State and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The government does not require parental consent even if the petition for a visa is made by a minor.
According to the report, “Over the last eleven years (FY2007 to FY2017), USCIS approved 3,595,447 petitions for spousal or fiance entry into the United States. Of those, 8,686 involved a minor. Two minors whose petitions were approved were 13 years old (and later rejected), 38 were 14 years old, 269 were 15 years old, 1,768 were 16 years old, and the remaining 6,609 were 17 years old.”
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