Earlier today, Republican Senator proposed a bill that attempts to close loopholes in current U.S. Immigration Law. This loophole leaves thousands of minors all over the world to be subjected to child marriages. According to a report that was recently filed by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the federal government approved thousand’s of requests to bring over minors as either child brides or fiancees over the past 10 years. Under The Immigration and Nationality Act, a child or an adult can petition for a visa if they are living abroad and it doesn’t set minimum age requirements.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Services, 5,500 petitions by adults to bring a minor spouse or fiancee into the country were filed from 2007 to 2017, with nearly 3,000 requests by minors trying to bring older spouses or fiancees into the country. 95% of the minors were girls. What is troubling is the petitions were for people who had a significant age difference. For example, a 71-year-old US Citizen requested a visa for a 17-year-old spouse from Guatemala. Another example is that a 14-year-old US Citizen requested a video for her 38-year-old spouse in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The legislation to fix this loophole was presented by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Tim Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa. They propose that the new age minimum is set to 18 years old for spouses and fiancees. While Johnson referred to this as “commonsense legislation” that should be bipartisan, this does not prevent underage marriage throughout the United States. In fact. only two states prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from being married; New Jersey and Delaware. In Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Iowa, 16-year-olds can get married as long as they have parental consent.
When reviewing these visas, Immigration services are supposed to consider the State Laws in which the couple plans to live. But the report found that data entry errors, fault processes at the agency, and relying on paper documents prevent the visas from being properly vetted which allowed many child marriages and fiancees to enter the country. While this new bill might be a step in the right direction to prevent more child marriages in the United States, it is one of the many loopholes that need to be closed when it comes to Immigration Law reform.