The approvals are legal: The Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements. And in weighing petitions for spouses or fiancees,
But the data raises questions about whether the immigration system may be enabling forced marriage and about how
There were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, according to the data requested by the
Some victims of forced marriage say the lure of a
“My passport ruined my life,” said
She was forcibly married at 13 in
“People die to come to America,” she said. “I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it.”
Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed to her first cousin Tariq when she was just 8 and he was 21. The petition was eventually terminated after she ran away. She said the ordeal cost her a childhood. She was in and out of foster care and group homes, and it took a while to get her life on track.
“I was a child. I want to know: Why weren’t any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don’t look at it? They don’t think?” Amin asked.
There is a two-step process for obtaining
Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancees, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses, according to the data. Additionally, there were 204 for minors by minors. Petitions can be filed by
“It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close,” Republican Sen.
In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship. In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50, the committee found. Among the examples: In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old’s petition for a 48-year-old spouse in
There are no nationwide statistics on child marriage, but data from a few states suggests it is far from rare. State laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet every state allows exceptions. Most states let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they have parental consent, and several states — including
“This is a problem both domestically and in terms of immigration,” she said.
Reiss — who says she was forced into an abusive marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19 — said that often cases of child marriage via parental consent involve coercion, with a girl forced to marry against her will.
“They are subjected to a lifetime of domestic servitude and rape,” she said. “And the government is not only complicit; they’re stamping this and saying: Go ahead.”
The data was requested in 2017 by Johnson and then-
“Our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children,” the senators said in the letter.
Separately, the data show some 4,749 minor spouses or fiancees received green cards to live in the
The head of
The country where most requests came from was