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USCIS vows to scrutinize child marriage petitions more closely

An Associated Press report released in January revealed that more than 5,000 adults in California and around the country have submitted immigration petitions on behalf of spouses under the age of 18. The report, which was based on figures from the Department of Homeland Security, also revealed that 3,000 minors in the United States have petitioned to have adult spouses or fiancées admitted into the United States.

The Trump administration has responded to the DHS and AP reports by announcing that petitions such as these will now be scrutinized much more closely. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that adjudicators will pay particular attention to whether the petitioner's marriage was legal in the country where the wedding ceremony took place and the laws of the state in which the petitioner lives or plans to live. Adjudicators will flag petitions when the marriage's legitimacy is questionable or there are signs that the child may have married against their will.

When it was suggested that the agency may not be going far enough, a USCIS representative pointed out that child marriage is not forbidden under federal law and is legal in most states. In September 2018, then California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that requires minors to be interviewed by family court officials before a marriage license can be issued. Minors who are at least 17 years of age and have graduated from high school are exempted from the interview requirement.

Attorneys who have handled family immigration cases may assist individuals who wish to submit petitions to USCIS on behalf of spouses or other family members by explaining the steps involved and ensuring that their paperwork is correct and complete. Attorneys might also seek an adjustment of status for family members that are already in the United States.

Source: The Associated Press, New guidance on handling child bride petitions, Colleen Long, Feb. 15, 2019Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, New restrictions passed for teen marriage, but some say they don't go far enough, Filipa Ioannou, Sept. 22, 2018

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