USCIS Takes Tiny Steps Against Exploitative Child Marriages

By David North on February 19, 2019

The government has just whispered that it may have some worries about underage U.S. citizens in visa-creating marriages with older aliens, with most of the latter living overseas.

The problem, as USCIS does not explain, is that some immigrant families in the States force young, U.S.-born minors (usually female) to marry older aliens from, for example, the family's village overseas, giving that alien a green card and denying the young woman the right to fall in love and marry someone of her own choosing.

It is the ultimate denial of a citizen's rights, and it is designed to provide benefits to older, male non-citizens, typically people who have never lived here. To speak about the situation in these terms is to break the veil of silence regarding these old world customs, and the agency seems hesitant to say anything that might invite criticism from the "community", from the "community's" immigration lawyers, or from open-borders advocates generally. Most of these marriages are among Muslims, a fact not noted by the government.

Such marriages are not covered by numerical ceilings, so an unlimited number of such admissions can be secured by marrying off these young (citizen) women.

USCIS, commendably, is taking a few long-overdue steps in the right direction, but it is muting its message in somnolent verbiage; its announcement begins:

Guidance Clarifies Agency Requirements for Petition

Washington — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that it is publishing guidance for its officers to consider when adjudicating spousal petitions involving minors.

The guidance, published as an update to the USCIS Adjudicator's Field Manual (AFM), clarifies age requirements for a petitioner filing an Affidavit of Support for a spouse in conjunction with a concurrently filed I-485, and identifies factors officers should consider when adjudicating a Form I-130 spousal petition involving a minor.

Are you still awake? Think how sleepy these words would be should they be translated into, say, bureaucratic Arabic, or Farsi officialese.

Perhaps the agency should have declared:

We are concerned about teenage U.S. citizens, usually young women, in immigrant families, being pushed into marriages with aliens, sometimes twice their age, in order to secure a green card for the alien. As a result we have taken a number of steps to make sure that these young citizens are not pressed into forced marriages.

Or something to that effect.

The guidance provides the sensible, if modest, suggestions to USCIS officers, that they should make sure that:

  • The marriage was lawful in the place it was celebrated;
  • If a couple resides outside the place of celebration, the marriage is recognized as valid in the U.S. state where the couple currently resides or will presumably reside and does not violate the state of residence's public policy, and:
  • The marriage is bona fide, and the minor(s) provided full, free, and informed consent to enter into the marriage.

The age of consent varies in the states from 16 to 18, according to Wikipedia, but there are important exceptions, allowing for legal marriages at earlier ages, as noted in the USCIS press release:

In some U.S. states ... marriages involving a minor might be considered under certain circumstances, including where there is parental consent, a judicial order, emancipation of the minor, or pregnancy of the minor.

So, to put it in non-USCIS terms: the alien can't — in some places — marry that 14-year-old girl unless he made her pregnant.

USCIS can do better than this.

It might, for example, rule that in all cases where a minor is applying for a marriage visa for an alien that the minor be interviewed alone before the petition is considered. The family is often the problem.

It might, more boldly, say that it will consider no petition filed by anyone under 17 or 18, or related to marriages where the citizen is under 17 or 18, and sit back and see if that is challenged in the courts — and then see who wins, the government or the exploiting aliens.

The bottom line is that the government apparently has blurred two questions that should be seen as separate ones:

  1. Should there be some limits on the weddings of young people?
  2. Should such marriages of young people be accompanied by the addition to the U.S. population of an alien who probably could not become an immigrant in any other way and should that marriage present to the alien the remarkable benefit of a green card?

Clearly it is appropriate to regulate the second matter more carefully than the first, since there is a government-created good involved. If the 15-year-old citizen wants to spend the rest of her life married to the 45-year-old guy in the village in the Middle East, that's up to her and state and local law; but if the same marriage brings a green card to him, then the government can, and should, set down some conditions, and make a real effort to prevent marriages that are simultaneously population-expanding as well as exploitative of the citizen.

For an earlier posting on this subject, see here.