Senators seek to change immigration law to curb child marriages

Republican senators introduced a bill Wednesday to close loopholes in U.S. immigration law that have allowed thousands of minors to be subjected to child marriages.

The move follows a report by the Senate Homeland Security Committee that found the federal government approved requests from thousands of men to bring child brides or fiancées into the country over the past decade, in part because the Immigration and Nationality Act doesn’t set minimum age requirements in such visa requests.

Under that law, a U.S. child can petition for a visa for a spouse or fiancé living in another country, and a U.S. adult can do the same for a minor spouse or fiancé living abroad, the report found.

The legislation, introduced by the committee’s chairman, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, would set a minimum age of 18 for spouses or fiancées in visa applications.

“A visa to enter the United States is a privilege, and this straightforward reform will help close a loophole that can lead to the abuse and exploitation of children,” Johnson said in a statement. “I hope my colleagues will join me to advance this commonsense legislation.”

The legislation would not completely end child marriage in the United States because most states allow citizens under 18 to marry, but often with judicial or parental consent. New Jersey and Delaware are the only states that prohibit marriages involving those under 18, having passed bans last year.

From 2007 to 2017, Citizenship and Immigration Services approvedmore than 5,500 petitions by adults to bring minor spouses or fiancées into the country, and granted nearly 3,000 requests by minors trying to bring in older spouses or fiancés, the committee’s report said. Girls were the minors in 95 percent of the cases.

By Dartunorro Clark for NBC NEWS

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