The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it was updating guidance on petitions to bring child brides into the country, emphasizing that marriages involving minors required special attention.
The move comes in response to an AP report that revealed that there were 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiancees, sparking concerns that some of these were cases of forced marriage.
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Petitions involving minors must now meet these requirements:
- The marriage was lawful where it was celebrated
- The marriage is legal in the state where they will live
- The marriage is bona fide and the minor consented freely to it
Voice of America reports:
The approval of the petitions is the first of a two-step visa process, and USCIS had already said it has taken steps to better flag and vet the petitions. 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.
Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the U.S., and most states allow children to marry with some restrictions.
But the data raise 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.
The USCIS changes will not stop child marriage — age limits must be set by Congress, and states — but officials hope it will help detect instances where a spouse is in the marriage against her will.
“USCIS is taking action to the maximum extent permitted under current immigration law to highlight special considerations in the adjudication of marriage-based immigrant petitions involving a minor,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna.
“While these are steps in the right direction, ultimately it is up to Congress to bring more certainty and legal clarity to this process for both petitioners and USCIS officers.”
Fraidy Reiss from non-profit Unchained at Last reiterated the need to change age requirements in law.
“What we need is strong legislation that closes the dangerous immigration loophole that currently allows children of any age to petition for a foreign spouse or fiance(e) or to be the beneficiary of a spousal or fiance(e) visa,” she said.
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