The United States has approved thousands of requests by men to bring child brides and adolescent brides from other countries. the approvals are legal because the immigration and nationality act does not set minimum age requirements.
A new U.S. Senate report, called How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages, is raising questions about whether our country's immigration system encourages child marriages.
Naila Amin grew up in New York City. She is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan, where she was forced to marry her adult cousin when she was 13.
"Imagine someone is beating you and raping you every day of your life even telling you 'Hey, put my socks on me,'" Amin said. "He treated me like a little slave."
Amin said her 26-year-old husband saw her as his passport to the United States.
"I was his lottery ticket out of Pakistan," she said.
Amin eventually got out of the marriage but said the ordeal cost her childhood.
"I know my potential could have been so much more," she said. "But they ruined my life."
Some lawmakers and advocates for victims say the U.S. immigration system may be unintentionally enabling forced marriages. A loophole in immigration law has paved the way for over 8,000 child marriages, mostly to girls brought in from outside the country, according to the Senate report.
Under the law, a U.S. child may petition for a visa for a spouse or fiancé living in another country. And a U.S. adult can petition for a visa for a minor spouse or fiancée living abroad.
"So it indicates a problem," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said. "It indicates a loophole that we need to close."
The organization Unchained at Last is dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States. Fraidy Reiss, the executive director, called the U.S. government "complicit" in child marriage.
"The U.S. government is encouraging child marriage with the loopholes and the laws that allow children to petition for a foreign spouse or fiancé or be the beneficiary of a foreign spouse or fiancé visa," Reiss said.
Lawmakers on the Senate homeland security and governmental reform committee are now calling for reforms to prevent people from getting immigration benefits that facilitate child marriages.
Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the United States, the AP reported. Most states allow children to marry with some restrictions. (New York is seeking to outlaw it.)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services weighs petitions in part based on whether the marriage is legal in the spouse or fiance's home country and whether it is legal in the state where the petitioner lives, the AP reported.