Between 2007 and 2017, the U.S. State Department approved 8,482 child bride requests, adults seeking to bring into the country a minor spouse or fiance and minors petitioning to bring in an adult spouse or fiance from abroad, according to the Associated Press. In addition, the U.S. government approved 204 requests by minors to bring in their minor spouses/fiances.
"In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship," reported the AP. "In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50...."
Some of the examples cited included, "In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old's petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica. A petition from a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his 17-year-old wife in Guatemala."
"The country where most requests came from was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen," said the AP. "Middle Eastern nationals had the highest percentage of overall approved petitions." (Emphasis added.)
The information was initally gathered by the Senate Homeland Security Committee after a request to the State Department was made in 2017.
"It indicates a problem," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.). In a letter, Johnson and his former colleague, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said, "Our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children."
As the report indicates, these child bride requests apparently are legal because most states allow 16- and 17-year olds to marry with parental permission. Also, children under age 16 can marry in New York, Virginia, and Maryland, if they have court permission.
Fraidy Reiss, who fights against coerced marriage through the group Unchained at Last, told the AP that data from New Jersey show that "nearly 4,000 minors, mostly girls, were married in the state from 1995 to 2012, including 178 who were under 15."
The report also noted the case of Naila Amin, who is now 29 but was 13 and living in Pakistan when she was forcibly married to her first cousin, Tariq, who was 26. Amin was bethrothed to Tariq when she was 8 years old and he was 21.
"My passport ruined my life," Amin, who has dual U.S. and Pakistani citizenship, told the AP. "People die to come to America. I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it."
"I was a child," she said. "Why weren't any flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don't look at it? They don't think?"