Senators move to close child-bride immigration loophole

March 13, 2019

Republican senators announced a new bill Wednesday aimed at closing a child-marriage loophole in immigration law.

Under the current system, there is no minimum age for an immigration petition. That means a juvenile in the U.S. can petition for a spouse or fianc(e) to immigrate to the U.S., and an adult here can petition for a juvenile partner to immigrate.

No parental consent is required.

A study last year by the Senate Homeland Security Committee found Homeland Security approved more than 8,000 petitions involving child marriages from 2007 to 2017 including two involving 13-year-olds, 38 14-year-olds and 269 15-year-olds.

The senators’ new proposal would prohibit any spouse or fianc(e) petitions that include a minor.

“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,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

The Wisconsin Republican introduced the legislation along with Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

A companion bill in the House is sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican.

In 95 percent of the cases, the children are girls and the adults in the coupling are men.

One petition granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was a 71-year-old U.S. citizen’s petition for a 17-year-old spouse from Guatemala.

USCIS shares responsibility with the State Department for the visas. Applications go to USCIS first, and then to the State Department for final approval.

Senate investigators didn’t give totals, but said of the 8,686 child spouse petitions approved by USCIS from 2007 to 2017, almost all of them were likely accepted by the State Department as well.

Of those cases, more than 5,500 involved adults in the U.S. applying to have a child spouse brought here.

USCIS last month issued new guidance saying that while the law doesn’t include a minimum age, agency adjudicators should at least make sure that the marriage would be valid in the state where the couple is applying from, and that the sponsor promising to support the migrant must be at least 18.