The United States government has potentially blessed over 8,000 underage sex trafficking cases in the past 10 years through its immigration portal, according to a recent report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
In a country that is currently experiencing harsh immigration blocks, this is one loophole that has yet to be closed, for a variety of reasons. With the recent dissemination of some alarming statistics, lawmakers are hoping that perhaps at least one vein of this awful crime coming into the U.S. can be blocked.
INA Doesn't Bar This Form of Sex Trafficking
The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) does not set an age limit for immigration requests for spouses or fiancées. For example, this means that a 15-year-old female U.S. resident or citizen could petition the government to allow her husband or fiancé from a foreign country to enter the U.S. Perhaps this marriage was arranged within the borders of the U.S. Or perhaps this female was married to the man when she was eight years old back in that foreign country, and she was recently allowed to immigrate to the U.S. Conversely, a U.S. adult may petition to have a minor spouse or fiancée that lives abroad immigrate to the U.S.
The only requirement U.S. Immigration would make on letting this spouse enter the U.S. is if this marriage would be legal in the state in which the U.S. resident resides. Most states in the U.S. allow minors to be married, some with a few caveats. Therefore, these immigration requests are often approved. By contrast, if that same 15 year old petitioned the U.S. to have her parent immigrate, that request would be denied. Children must be 21 years of age or older to request access for their parents.
Staggering Statistics Involving Young Female Brides
One might think that these requests by minors are rare, but "rare" can be rather subjective. Between 2007 and 2017, 5,556 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors were approved by the USCIS. In addition, nearly 3,000 minors received approval to bring in older spouses or fiancées. Of these, two of the minors receiving approval were only 13 years old, and 38 were 14 years old. In one of those cases involving a 14 year old, the spouse was a 48-year-old Jamaican. In 95% of the cases, the minor was female. Middle Eastern nationals had the highest percentage of approved petitions, while most requests came from Mexico, followed by Pakistan and Jordan.
Rapes Behind the Stats
Terrifying stories lie behind these statistics. For example, Naila Amin is a dual citizen born in Pakistan and raised in New York City. She was forced to marry in Pakistan at the age of 13, betrothed when she was just eight years old, and he was 21. After being married in Pakistan, she was forced to live with him for a time there, where she was sexually assaulted and beaten. She came back to the U.S., and then her parents petitioned U.S. Immigration to allow him entry. When Amin found out the petition was approved, she ran away from home, and was subsequently in and out of foster care and group homes. She is now 29, and is in control of her own destiny. But others aren't so lucky, if you can call it that.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and other legislative members, are looking to close this sex trafficking loophole. Until they succeed, victims will have to rely on state sexual assault and domestic violence laws. If you or someone you love falls into this victim category, contact local law enforcement officials. If your assailant spouse or fiancé is so much as arrested, he or she could face deportation proceedings.
If you are worried about such an investigation tainting your own immigration status, contact a local immigration attorney. An experienced lawyer can listen to the specific facts of your case, and help you determine if you may face immigration proceedings as a result. Though you have been threatened to lose your U.S. status if you alert authorities, that may only be a scare tactic and not, in fact, the case.