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WASHINGTON – Thousands of requests from men to bring brides girls and teenagers to live in the United States have been approved in the last ten years, according to government data obtained by the Associated Press. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission for a 15-year-old girl.
Approvals are legal: immigration law and nationality does not set minimum age requirements. And in weighing petitions for spouses or girlfriends, US citizenship and immigration services pass if the marriage is legal in the country of origin and then if the marriage is legal in the state in which the applicant lives.
But the data raises questions about whether the immigration system can allow forced marriage and how US laws could exacerbate the problem, despite efforts to limit forced marriage and the child. Marriage between adults and children is not uncommon in the United States, and most states allow children to marry with certain restrictions.
There were more than 5,000 adult petition cases on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring older spouses or fiancés, according to data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017 and compiled into a report .
Some victims of forced marriage claim that the recall of a US passport combined with US marriage laws partly feeds petitions.
"My passport ruined my life," said Naila Amin, a double Pakistani town who grew up in New York.
She was forcibly married at age 13 in Pakistan and applied for documents for her 26-year-old husband to come to the country.
"People die to come to America," he said. "I was a passport for him, everyone wanted him here, and that was the way to do it."
Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed to her cousin Tariq when she was only 8 years old and was 21 years old. The petition was finally interrupted after his escape. He said that the ordeal has cost him a childhood. It was in and out of custody and from group houses, and it took a while to get back on track.
"I was a child, I want to know: why were not red flags raised – this application, they do not look at it? Do not they think?"
There is a two-step procedure for obtaining immigration visas to the United States and green cards . The petitions are first considered by USCIS. If granted, they must be approved by the State Department. Overall, 3.5 million petitions were received from financial years 2007 to 2017.
At that time, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring spouses or girlfriends and 2,926 approvals by minors who tried to bring older spouses, according to the data. Furthermore, there were 204 for minors by minors. Petitions can be submitted by US citizens or permanent residents.
"Indicates a problem: Indicates a loophole we have to close," said Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, president of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the AP.
In almost all cases, girls were the youngest person in the relationship. In 149 cases, the adult was over 40 and in 28 cases the adult was over 50 years old. Examples include: In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old petition for a 48-year-old wife in Jamaica. A petition of a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his seventeen-year-old wife in Guatemala.
There are no national statistics on child marriage, but data from some states suggest that it is all but rare. State laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet each state allows exceptions. Most states let 16 and 17-year-olds get married if they have parental consent, and several states – including New York, Virginia and Maryland – allow children under 16 to marry with court permission .
Fraidy Reiss, who campaigns against marriage coercion as head of a group called Unchained at Last, data sought after by her New Jersey state of origin. He determined that nearly 4,000 children, mostly girls, were married in the state from 1995 to 2012, including 178 who were under 15 years of age.
"This is a problem both nationally and in terms of immigration," he said.
Reiss – who says she was forced into a violent marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19 – said that often child marriage cases through parental consent involve coercion, with a girl forced to marry against his will.
subjected to a life of domestic servitude and rape, "he said." And the government is not just an accomplice, it's stamping it and says: go ahead. "
Data were requested in 2017 by Johnson and then from the Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, the maximum Democracy of the committee, Johnson said that it takes a year to get the information, showing that there must be a better way to monitor and control the petitions.
"Our system immigration can unintentionally protect the abuse of women and children, "said the senators in the letter.
USCIS did not know how many of the approvals were issued by the State Department, but overall only about 2.6% of marriage or fiancé requests were rejected.
Separately, the data show that 4,749 spouses or fiancee green cards were registered to live in the United States during the same 10-year period.  The head of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, stated in a letter to the committee that their request had raised questions and discussions within the agency about what he could do to prevent minor marriages forced. The agency noted some problems in the way the data were collected and solved them. Officials have also created a reporting system that requires verification of the date of birth each time a minor is detected.
The country from which many requests came was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen. The citizens of the Middle East recorded the highest percentage of approved petitions in general.