U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is cracking down on unconsenting child brides, announcing on Friday that it will be following a new set of rules in assessing petitions from individuals seeking to bring their migrant spouses into the U.S.. The announcement comes after thousands of such requests involving minors were found to have been approved last year.
This effort, however, will not be an indiscriminate crackdown. USCIS elaborated that it had updated its guiding policies to adjudicators, emphasizing that marriages involving underage spouses required further scrutiny. To ensure this, the marriage in question must be found to have been lawful where it was celebrated and will remain so in the state where the incoming child spouse plans to reside, freely consented to by the minor involved, and duly certified by adjudicators as bona fide.
The Associated Press reported last month that among the numerous petitions from individuals in adult-minor relationships, at least 5,000 were of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and 3,000 were of minors attempting to petition their older spouses into the States.
The USCIS said that there will be a two-step visa process for such cases, where approval of the petitions from the agency will only serve as the first. Petitions are then passed on to the State Department for approval as well. The agency has promised to take further action to better vet and sift through these petitions, recognizing that there were 3.5 million petitions involving minors from 2007 to 2017.
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, these marriages are legal. The law imposes no minimum age requirements on the person making the petition or the spouse or fiancée they seek to lawfully bring into the country. This is in stark contrast to policies surrounding bringing in a migrant parent from another country, in such case the petitioner must be at least 21 years old to do so.
While this initiative alone is unlikely to end child marriage, USCIS officials remain hopeful that it will at least curb instances where the underage spouse is in the marriage without their consent.
“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,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna explained. “While these steps are 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.”
If you would like to learn more about this latest update to U.S. immigration policy, or have a loved one seeking immigration assistance, don’t hesitate to sit down for a consultation with the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225 to talk to immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.