U.S. immigration system approved thousands of child marriages in past decade – NBC News

Reiss and other activists seeking to end the practice told NBC News that they hope the report could serve as a catalyst for Congress to address the issue once and for all. But they also say they worry lawmakers could continue to slow-walk efforts to pass legislation.

“Everywhere we go, legislators, staffers, domestic violence professionals are surprised we allow child marriages in almost every U.S. state,” Amanda Parker, senior director at the AHA Foundation, which advocates against forced marriages, told NBC News. “We think of this as a problem that happens somewhere else, and I think that’s where we get the disconnect.”

“The bigger question is: Why is this happening for something that seems like such a simple fix?” Parker added. “How is it that our United States government is essentially facilitating child marriages?”

The issue starts with federal law. The Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements for a minor to request a visa for an adult spouse or fiancée, or vice versa. Petitions are first considered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.

If the petition is approved, the State Department then decides whether to issue a visa. Since USCIS considers only whether the age at marriage “violates the laws of the place of celebration or the public policy of the U.S. state in which the couple plans to reside,” according to the Senate report, advocates say this is where the disconnect occurs.