Although the latest immigration news reports have focused on national security matters, especially after President Trump declared a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern U.S. border, the Department of Homeland Security announced new rules to track child marriages through immigration.
Currently, federal immigration laws do not establish a minimum age requirement for an individual to apply or be subject to visa petitions. This means minors can be named as either fiancées or spouses.
According to the new guidelines, immigration officials will now consider the age of the petitioner and beneficiary when they got married and whether the marriage violated international law in the country the wedding took place of state law where the couple plans to live.
Before the new rules, USCIS used an electronic flagging system to detect minors on spousal and fiancé visa petitions. If a minor is found, a special unit would investigate the matter further.
However, an age requirement on spousal and fiancé visas need to be enacted and enforced to effectively resolve the issue. It is ultimately up to Congress to introduce such legislation.
Unchained At Last—a women’s advocacy group—claims over 8,000 spousal or fiancée visa petitions that were approved from 2007 to 2017 involved a child. The minor was a girl in 95 percent of those cases.
There are two ways child marriages commonly occur: minors outside the U.S. are beneficiaries of spousal or fiancée visas due to family or financial duress or minors in the U.S. are forced to marry immigrants. Child brides are often sexually and physically abused, as well as deprived of education and U.S. citizenship.
UNICEF states 650 million females of all ages were married prior to turning 18 years old. NPR reporter 200,000 minors (with the majority being girls) were married from 2000 to 2015 in the United States.
According to statutory rape laws in 38 states, sexual intercourse and contact with a minor are allowed within marriage.