US approved thousands of requests to bring child brides into country over the last decade

Sally Newall, Riya Patel, Pippa Bailey

Over the past few decades, the United States government approved thousands of requests by men to bring in child or adolescent bides to live in the country, according to newly collated federal data.

In one of those cases, a 49-year-old man applied to admit a 15-year-old child bride into the US.

These application approvals are legal. The are no set minimum age requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act. And as for spouse and fiancees petitions, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines their application decisions based on whether the marriage in question is legal in the country of origin, and if it would be legal in the state where the petition resides.

The data obtained by the Associated Press, however, prompts scrutiny on whether the immigration system is enabling forced marriages, and how American laws are exacerbating the problem despite its attempts to curb child and forced marriages.

From 2007 to 2017, there were 3.5 million petitions received. Within that time period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring in their minor spouses or fiances, and 2,926 by minors bringing in their older spouses, according to data by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017.

In almost all of these cases, the female was the younger person in the relationship. In 149 cases, the adults were older than 40, and in 28 cases, they were over 50, the committee discovered.

Forced marriage victims say that draw of a US passport and relaxed American marriage laws are a driving force behind these petitions. In order to obtain an US immigration visa or green card, there is a two-step process: the petition must first be reviewed by USCIS before being approved by the state department. The petitions must be filed by either a US citizen or a permanent resident.

Republican Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, told the AP the data points to a startling issue in the immigration system. “It indicates a problem,” Mr Johnson said. “It indicates a loophole that we need to close.”

Although most states place some restrictions, marriages between adults and minors are not uncommon in the US. American state laws set 18-years-old as the minimum age for marriage, but every state allows exceptions.

Some states let 16- and 17-year-olds to marry as long as they have parental consent, and in states like New York, Virginia and Maryland, children under the age of 16 are allowed to marry with court permission.