Federal Loophole Enables Child Marriage in the U.S. – Media Release



For immediate release – Friday, January 11, 2019

Federal Loophole Enables Child Marriage in the U.S.

One year ago, the AHA Foundation alerted the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that children are being married in the U.S. because of a federal loophole that has been a driver of countless child marriages in the U.S.

Although U.S. policy aims to prevent child marriages overseas, current federal law does not specify a minimum age to sponsor or receive a spousal or fiancé(e) visa.

Currently, it is legal for a U.S. citizen child to sponsor a visa for a foreign-born spouse or fiancé(e), or for a U.S. citizen to sponsor a child to come to the U.S. for the purpose of marriage. In a situation of forced marriage, a family may use this loophole to promise American citizenship in exchange for a marital agreement as part of the dowry the new husband receives. Similarly, a child may also be brought against her will to the U.S. to be married. This federal loophole in the U.S. immigration system has enabled child marriages for children as young as 14.

Amanda Parker, Senior Director at the AHA Foundation says  “We have been concerned about this gaping loophole for a number of years, seeking data and alerting policymakers to the problem.”

AHA Foundation submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in June of 2016 asking that the number of children who have been trapped into marriages through this loophole be researched and released. We also called for action for the loophole to be closed and exposed our findings in social media and our website. The committee sent their own request for information based on ours and was given a response more quickly.

Today, the number was released: 8,686 spousal/fiancé(e) petitions involving children were approved from 2007 to 2017; this loophole mainly impacts girls – 95% of the approved petitions included female children. “How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages” was released today by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and highlights the nature of this serious problem.

“While the U.S. government rightly condemns child marriage, our policies not only contradict that position but actually facilitate the marriage of children. The harms that accompany child marriage are lifelong and serious. It’s shocking that we allow for this to happen,” says Ms. Parker.

The details of the report share more stunning data. Though the State Department ultimately canceled the petitions, the youngest children whose petitions were approved were only 13. 149 of the visas to facilitate marriages with children involved individuals aged 40 and above. A 71-year-old U.S. citizen successfully petitioned for a visa for a 17-year-old; a 14-year-old U.S. citizen successfully petitioned for a visa for a 48-year-old.

Amanda Parker, Senior Director of the AHA Foundation.

About the AHA Foundation believes in liberty for all people:

The AHA Foundation was established by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007 to put the ideas she writes about into practice. The organization advocates liberty for all by championing human rights and individual liberties above cultural, social or religious imperatives. As a 501(c)3 non-profit, the AHA Foundation, raises funds and leads programs to protect women from honor violence, to advance freedom of speech on campuses and in public debate, as well as supporting the work of Muslim reformers.