Up­dates on spousal mi­gra­tion pol­icy

Agency that ap­proves re­quests to bring spouses to the U.S. has new rules tar­get­ing pos­si­ble child mar­riages.

Orlando Sentinel - - COMING SUNDAY - By Colleen Long

WASH­ING­TON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced new rules Fri­day to scru­ti­nize pe­ti­tions to bring in un­der­age spouses to the U.S. af­ter data showed thou­sands of re­quests by men to bring in child and ado­les­cent brides had been ap­proved.

U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices said it was up­dat­ing guid­ance to ad­ju­di­ca­tors that stresses mar­riages in­volv­ing mi­nors war­rant spe­cial at­ten­tion. They must en­sure the mar­riage was law­ful where it was cel­e­brated, and is le­gal in the state where they will live, and that it is bona fide and the mi­nor con­sented freely to it.

The As­so­ci­ated Press last month ob­tained data show­ing 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 fi­ancees.

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.

They are le­gal. The Im­mi­gra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act does not set min­i­mum age re­quire­ments for the per­son mak­ing the re­quest or for that per­son’s spouse or fi­ancee. By con­trast, to bring in a par­ent from over­seas, a pe­ti­tioner has to be at least 21 years old.

And in weigh­ing pe­ti­tions, U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices goes by whether the mar­riage is le­gal in the spouse’s or fi­ancee’s home coun­try and then whether the mar­riage would be le­gal in the state where the pe­ti­tioner lives.

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 in which 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.”

But ad­vo­cacy groups say the idea in the guid­ance that parental con­sent can be used as ev­i­dence the un­der­age bride con­sented to the mar­riage ig­nores that many par­ents co­erce their chil­dren into the re­la­tion­ship.

To ob­tain U.S. im­mi­gra­tion visas and green cards, pe­ti­tions are first con­sid­ered by USCIS. If granted, they must be ap­proved by the State Depart­ment. Over­all, 3.5 mil­lion pe­ti­tions were re­ceived from bud­get years 2007 through 2017.

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 U.S. cit­i­zens or per­ma­nent res­i­dents. In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger per­son in the re­la­tion­ship.

Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron John­son said he was pleased to see the guid­ance.

“De­spite this im­prove­ment, Congress still needs to act to close this loop­hole,” the Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can said.

USCIS didn’t know how many of the ap­provals were granted by the State Depart­ment, but over­all only about 2.6 per­cent of spousal or fi­ancee claims are re­jected.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has an­nounced new rules to scru­ti­nize pe­ti­tions to bring in mi­nor spouses to the U.S.

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