Thousands of requests by men to bring child and adolescent brides to the United States were approved over the past 10 years, according government data obtained by The Associated Press in a new report. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission of a 15-year-old girl.
The approvals are legal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which does not set minimum age requirements for the person making the request or for that person's spouse or fiancee, the AP reported.
By contrast, to bring in a parent from overseas, a petitioner has to be at least 21 years old.
When determining whether to grant requests, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services goes by whether the marriage is legal in the spouse or fiancee's home country and then whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives, the AP reported.
The policy has sparked questions about whether it enables forced marriage. Data requested by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2017 shows there were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances.
From 2007 to 2017, there were 3.5 million petitions submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for marriages, according to the data. Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancees, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, according to the data. In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship.
USCIS didn't know how many of the approvals were granted by the State Department but, overall, only about 2.6 percent of spousal or fiance claims are rejected.
"It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close," Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told the AP.
USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said the agency is aware of the problem and is taking action to correct it.
"USCIS has taken steps to improve data integrity and has implemented a range of solutions that require the verification of a birthdate whenever a minor spouse or fiance is detected. Ultimately, it is up to Congress to bring more certainty and legal clarity to this process for both petitioners and USCIS officers," Bars said in a statement.
The country from which the most requests originated was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen, the AP reported.