Other Nations Deal With Immigration/Marriage Complications – U.S. Does Not

By David North on December 21, 2011

Polygamy and the English-speaking abilities of the incoming alien spouse have created marriage-related immigration news in Canada and the U.K., while such matters are rarely discussed in the U.S.

Three news reports in recent days support the previous sentence, a subject touched upon in an earlier blog of mine.

Two of these recent reports relate to the attempts of Canada and the United Kingdom to use the immigration law to discourage polygamy, with the Canadian migration-control agency making some progress, while the Brits' efforts have been set back by a court order.

According to a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, Canada's immigration minister said that his agency had created a fraud tip line to pick up information on visa-creating polygamous marriages and other kinds of immigration fraud.

That agency is also revising its newcomers' guide to emphasize that such marriages are against Canadian law.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., the Home Office had an interesting immigration petition before it. A 25-year-old U.S. citizen, Emily DiSanto, gave birth to a child while living with a married couple (a Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield) who were worshipers of the Norse gods, Odin and Thor. Ms. DiSanto, whose child had been fathered by Caulfield, applied to the Home Office to stay in the U.K., but the agency said no, on the grounds of the polygamous relationship.

The case was appealed and came before a judicial body called the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, and it ruled that "it would be disproportionate to require her [Ms. DiSanto] to leave Britain."

In other words, while bigamy is illegal in the U.K., it is not so illegal that it can cause a deportation, a ruling that should warm the hearts of Obama's lawyers who make roughly similar anti-deportation arguments all the time.

In the course of the trial, according to an article in the Telegraph, it was stated that because Odinism bans divorce, Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield continue to live together. The paper clearly had a good time with the story, writing:

Pagan wins 'family life' human rights case
An American woman who worships Norse gods has won the right to stay in Britain because of the
"family life" with her boyfriend and his wife.

While the Home Office was losing one anti-polygamy battle in the British courts, it was busy winning another immigration-and-marriage-related battle, one that has wider implications than that of Ms. DiSanto and Odinism.

Under British law, if a resident wants to bring a spouse from overseas the spouse has to be able to speak English; this has been the case for a little over a year.

Three couples, at least one of them from the Indian subcontinent, appealed the new rule to the courts.

A BBC report said that a barrister for one of the couples argued that "The rule is designed, putting it crudely, to keep out persons who tend to marry within their own communities, who tend to have arranged marriages, who tend to be from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East in particular."

Mr. Justice Beatson, speaking for the High Court (which is not the U.K.'s Supreme Court), was quoted as saying that the new language test was not a disproportionate interference with the couple's right to family life and that the aims of the new law – to promote integration and to protect the public services – were legitimate aims.

Although I am not a lawyer, much less a British one, I sense that those two U.K. court decisions are not consistent with one another, but that's what appeals courts are for.

Meanwhile, back in the States, there are no conversations, much less legislation, suggesting that an alien spouse should be able to speak English. As for polygamy, I may have missed some events, but the last time I know of that the U.S. government faced a significant polygamous marriage/immigration issue, it looked the other way.

This was back in the period right after the end of the war in Vietnam. Among America's staunchest allies were the Hmong, a minority population living in the hills of Laos. Our government, egged on by the CIA, which had worked closely with the "Secret Army" of the Hmong tribesmen, wanted to bring in as many Hmong as possible as refugees. The agency said that they were likely to be slaughtered by the dominant population, the Lowland Lao (to use the Hmong's term).

A complication was that the leader of the Hmong, General Vang Pao, had numerous wives. Not only was polygamy a fairly common practice in that society, Vang Pao as a rising leader in Hmong community had, it was widely reported, deliberately married a woman from each of the more prominent clans. He was both the ranking military leader and the de facto political boss of the community.

During the 1980s I conducted several studies for the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. Several of them dealt with the Hmong, and I had several Hmong associates in those projects. In the course of conversations with them I was told that the government had admitted the general and all of his wives, but that the paperwork showed one wife, and several sisters to that wife. (All of this was, of course, second-hand information at best.)

These admissions were made under refugee, not immigration provisions, of the law. The second and subsequent wives were presumably not admitted as spouses of the general, but as free-standing refugees in their own right. It all flowed smoothly without public discussion, just as the CIA would have wanted, and everybody ignored the polygamy involved.

General Vang Pao, then 81, died earlier this year. His obituary in the New York Times can be read here.

The obituary had a different take on the marriages than my Hmong friends had: "He had to divorce all but one of his five wives when he went to the United States in 1975, settling on a ranch in Montana."

Just as there are nominal marriages designed to enhance immigration benefits, perhaps the general's divorces were nominal, too. There is no evidence that Vang Pao left his other wives behind, either in Laos or in Thai refugee camps.