AHA Foundation is excited to report that U.S. lawmakers have drafted legislation to close a loophole in federal immigration law that enables thousands of child marriages in the United States. This law will tackle child marriage directly and counteract the exploitation of our visa system.
There is technically no minimum age requirement to sponsor or receive a spousal immigration visa. A recent bipartisan report released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee provided startling statistics that show just how many children have been married as a result. Between the years 2007 to 2017 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the agency that oversees the country’s immigration system, approved 8,686 spousal or fiancé(e) visa petitions that involved a minor. Among these minors, girls were the younger party 95 percent of the time. Read more about the report here.
Following the release of the report, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were swift in their response. Last week, they introduced legislation that would close this loophole by prohibiting spousal and fiancé(e) immigration benefits if a visa petition involves a minor under the age of 18.
CONTACT YOUR LAWMAKER AND URGE THEM TO SUPPORT S. 742
Current visa guidelines contain weaknesses that have facilitated thousands of child marriages without interruption. As the laws currently stand, when reviewing a financé(e) petition for approval, USCIS needs only to consider whether a petitioner’s age at marriage violates either the laws in the foreign place of celebration, or the marital policy of the state in which the couple will reside. Currently, only two states – New Jersey and Delaware – have completely outlawed marriage below the age of eighteen. All other states allow minors to wed under codified exceptions that include cases of pregnancy, judicial approval, or parental consent. Moreover, though the legal age to marry in many foreign countries is set at 18 years of age, legal exceptions, varying judicial interpretations, and localized policies render most baseline age requirements moot.
The messaging of the proposed legislation is clear – the vulnerable must be protected and child wellbeing should be of utmost consideration when setting age restrictions for marriage-based visa petitioners. This bill addresses child marriage directly by establishing an unqualified minimum marriage age requirement of 18 years old for approval of marriage-based immigration benefits. This baseline restriction is the most viable solution in preventing child marriage through the exploitation of the U.S. immigration system.
Maintaining a position of zero tolerance for child marriage is the only acceptable course of action. We must close this immigration loophole. Adolescents who marry face added legal and practical barriers in finding help out of unwanted or abusive marriages. They are also more likely to face harmful outcomes including increased likelihoods of living in poverty later in life, disease onset, and spousal abuse. In a situation of forced marriage, a family may use this loophole to promise American citizenship in exchange for a marital agreement. Similarly, an immigrant child may be brought to the U.S. against her will to be married.
Thwarting child abuse and the misuse of our immigration visa system is not a partisan issue. We hope legislators from both sides will come together to support this legislation, which establishes additional safeguards for children, both immigrant and U.S. citizen alike. This law will be one very necessary development in the journey to end child marriage throughout the country.
A visa to enter the United States is a privilege, and this straightforward reform will help close a loophole that can lead to the abuse and exploitation of children…I hope my colleagues will join me to advance this common sense legislation. – Senator Ron Johnson
We are now urging our supporters to act. Concerned citizens everywhere should contact their Senators and Representatives and urge them to support this legislation. These laudable, common sense efforts to protect children, regardless of national origin, should be celebrated and supported.
If we take a stand together, we will succeed. Lend your voice to those who have been silenced by this human rights abuse, and send a message to your lawmakers that ZERO TOLERANCE of child marriage is the only worthwhile solution.