Campaign to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation through the International Marriage Broker (IMB) Industry
In recent years, the international marriage broker (IMB) industry has exploded in response to a demand by some American men for a “traditional” wife from countries such as the Philippines and Russia. Based on 2007 immigration statistics, between 11,000 and 16,500 foreign brides—a number that reflects one third to one half of all foreign fiancé(e)s who enter the United States—may come here every year as a result of IMB matches (see Frequently Asked Questions About IMBRA for information regarding these statistics). The business model and marketing practices of many of these IMBs attract predators as clients, and, as a result, a growing number of matches are made between foreign women and abusive US men as prospective husbands. Many women find themselves in dangerously violent relationships, as they may be unfamiliar with the English language and the US legal system, are given little information about their prospective husbands, and are misled or not told about their rights because IMBs want to preserve their profitable matchmaking track records.
The murders of Alla Barney in New Jersey in 2003 (stabbed by her American husband in the parking lot of a Kindercare), Teresa Lane in Alabama in 2003 (drowned when her American husband pinned her with his foot in a bathtub full of running water), Anastasia King in Washington State in 2000 (strangled by an accomplice while her 300-pound American husband pinned her down), and Susana Blackwell in Washington State in 1995 (several months pregnant, she and two of her friends were shot in a courthouse by her American husband) are just a few of the many alarming tragedies that have underscored the urgent need for greater protection for foreign women who meet American men through this industry.
How IMBs Market Foreign Women
“While many women that you are used to would never cater to you like in old-fashioned times, a filipina will insist that she make you more comfortable. . . She will do everything to shows that she appreciates having you as her man. There are not too many girls like this anymore (especially domestically), but rest assured that this character trait is ingrained in the mind of the average filipina.” www.manilabeauty.com
(last visited 03/05/07)
“[Russian women] are much more patient and can tolerate things that Western women will never be able to bear. … Another important difference is that Russian women (and Russians in general) have very low self-esteem. While Western women think that they are goddesses and able to cope with anything on their own, a Russian woman will rarely leave a bad (really BAD) husband because of the fear that she won’t find another one. For many years the state and men have been oppressing them, and they don’t think much about themselves.” www.womenrussia.com
(last visited 1/15/09)
“Serving you hot Latin women since 2002. Go on a Safari today to meet a sexy Latin woman. Latin Tours are going mainstream with popularity. Men from all over the world are flocking to South America to get married to traditional women. Don’t wait until it’s too late as American feminist groups are trying to shut all foreign women and wives including Latin women out of the USA….” www.sexysafari.net
(last visited 1/15/09)
Tahirih’s Campaign to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation through the International Marriage Broker Industry has taken a multi-prong approach to advocating for the accountability of marriage broker agencies and the greater protection of women using their services. Successes include, in 2004, winning the first-ever lawsuit against an IMB for its role in enabling the abuse of a Ukrainian woman, and in 2006, securing the enactment of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA), signed into law as part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act.
Fox v. Encounters International
Nataliya Fox, a Ukrainian woman, suffered brutal abuse by a husband with a past history of domestic violence with whom she was matched through the Maryland-based IMB, Encounters International (EI). Nataliya escaped with her daughter to a domestic violence shelter, where she found safety and was referred to Tahirih. Tahirih successfully represented Nataliya’s case under the Violence Against Women Act and brought the first lawsuit in the United States against an IMB. Read more about Fox v. Encounters International.
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) creates safeguards to protect foreign women from violent abuse by men they meet through international marriage brokers. It is common sense legislation that provides foreign women with information about the violent criminal history of their prospective American husbands, as well as about the rights and resources available to domestic violence victims in the United States.
IMBRA was introduced with bipartisan sponsorship (Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rick Larsen (D-WA)) in 2005, and then was incorporated and signed into law in January 2006 as part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act. Tahirih was the lead drafter and advocate in the four-year effort that led to IMBRA’s passage. Tahirih rallied a coalition of over 200 organizations—representing diverse political, religious, and cultural communities—to advocate for IMBRA as a tool to protect vulnerable foreign brides from preventable tragedies.
As often happens in regulated industries, some IMBs initially resisted regulation and brought suit in early 2006 to try to challenge IMBRA on constitutional grounds. The IMB-plaintiffs sought restraining orders in federal district courts in Georgia and Ohio to bar the government from enforcing IMBRA until the constitutional challenges were settled. The Ohio judge concluded that their constitutional challenges had “little likelihood of success on the merits” and rejected their request for a restraining order. Read Tahirih’s press release on the Ohio dismissal (PDF). In late 2006, those plaintiff-IMBs dropped their case. And in March 2007, the Georgia judge issued his final decision on that plaintiff’s constitutional challenges, finding them all to be without merit and upholding IMBRA as a preventative measure that is “highly likely to reduce domestic abuse – and may actually save lives”. Read Tahirih’s press release on the Georgia decision (PDF). As a result, IMBRA remains fully enforceable against all IMBs. The Tahirih Justice Center joined both the Georgia and Ohio suits as a party to help defend IMBRA.
Tahirih is proud of its instrumental role in making IMBRA a reality but recognizes that there is much work ahead to translate the law into meaningful and effective protections for foreign brides coming to the United States. Recent developments underscore these challenges and reinforce the critical need for Tahirih’s continued leadership.
Department of Justice News Release Reveals Failure to Enforce 2006 Law to Protect Foreign Brides from Abuse
A US Department of Justice (DOJ) News Release issued on October 13, 2009 raises renewed serious concerns about the federal government’s inattention to the full implementation and enforcement of the “International Marriage Broker Regulation Act” (IMBRA), a law enacted in January 2006 as part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act. According to the release, the federal agency charged with making referrals for enforcement of IMBRA is “yet to be determined,” which leaves IMBRA without an effective enforcement process. Read more from Tahirih’s October 16, 2009, press release on the DOJ revelation.
Tahirih Calls for Improvements on Draft Domestic Violence Rights Pamphlet
In July 2008, more than two years after the statutory deadline, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finally released a draft of a crucial IMBRA-mandated pamphlet advising foreign fiancé(e)s and spouses about the rights and resources available to immigrant victims of violence in the United States. In requiring the creation of this pamphlet, IMBRA recognized that many foreign brides do not have basic information that could help them escape abuse, such as knowing to dial 9-1-1, obtain a protective order, or seek legal or social services assistance.
DHS asked the public to submit comments on the pamphlet by September 19, 2008. Tahirih mobilized dozens of advocates for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other crimes, as well as others with specialized insights, to weigh in with suggestions about how to make the pamphlet more effective.
Tahirih also collaborated with the Immigrant Women Program at Legal Momentum and pro bono attorneys at the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP to file detailed joint comments (view exhibits: A, B, C-E), which even included proposed alternate pamphlet language. Among the significant areas for improvement that Tahirih noted, the pamphlet needs to provide more comprehensive information regarding what legal rights and resources are available, in simple, clear language that is user-friendly and understandable to non-lawyers.
GAO Issues Report Highlighting Gaps in IMBRA’s Implementation
In August 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report citing widespread gaps in federal agencies’ implementation and enforcement of IMBRA. In addition to the long-overdue draft information pamphlet, the GAO found other disturbing delays and failures to implement key IMBRA requirements, including:
- The Department of State (DOS) has not been providing foreign fiancé(e)s/spouses with a copy of their American sponsors’ visa applications, which contain important IMBRA-mandated disclosures about criminal convictions. The GAO also discovered that it was not until March 2008—more than two years after IMBRA’s enactment—that DOS finally issued formal guidance to consular officers processing fiancé(e)/spouse visas overseas about all the vital disclosures they are required to make under IMBRA.
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has failed to set up IMBRA-required procedures to prevent serial predators from sponsoring visas for multiple foreign fiancé(e)s. Prior to IMBRA, there was no limit on the number of visa applications that could be submitted to sponsor foreign fiancé(e)s, and no tracking mechanism to prevent even simultaneous sponsorship applications. Foreign spouses were also not advised about how many times before their American spouse may have sponsored such visas. IMBRA sought to close this loophole to prevent serial predators from “churning through” a succession of foreign brides.
- DOS, DHS, and the Department of Justice have not yet coordinated to determine which agency will be responsible for investigating and prosecuting IMBs who commit civil or criminal violations of obligations imposed on the industry by IMBRA. This last failure has left IMBRA essentially unenforced, nearly three years after its enactment.
The Tahirih Justice Center issued a press release to respond to the GAO report and is redoubling efforts to collaborate with Congressional allies, coalition colleagues, and others to see that these alarming gaps in IMBRA’s implementation and enforcement are addressed.
Next Steps Towards the Full Implementation and Effective Enforcement of IMBRA
Tahirih is grateful for all the hard work invested thus far by so many of the dedicated organizations that have made protecting immigrant women and girls from abuse a top priority, and by the dedicated staff at federal agencies that have taken the lead in accomplishing the first steps in IMBRA’s implementation.
We look forward to continuing to work with these organizations and agencies to reach the law’s full potential in protecting vulnerable foreign brides and their children—thousands of whom may come to the United States each year through the IMB industry—from preventable abuse and exploitation.
To sustain and strengthen Tahirih’s leadership on this issue, Tahirih has also hired a full-time Senior Public Policy Attorney, Deepika R. Allana.
Some IMBs have raised questions regarding IMBRA’s requirements and parameters. In an effort to clarify IMBRA and IMB obligations, Tahirih prepared an Advisory that summarizes IMBRA’s key elements, addresses “Frequently Asked Questions,” provides practical tips to facilitate compliance, and includes background notes about IMBRA. Download PDF
Advisory for Prosecutors, Attorneys, and Victim-Advocates: Federal and State Regulation of International Marriage Brokers
This Advisory is intended to help hold IMBs accountable for failing to comply with federal and state laws that regulate IMBs in order to prevent the abuse and exploitation of foreign brides. The Advisory outlines for prosecutors, attorneys, victim-advocates, and others, the various legal remedies—at the federal and state level, both civil and criminal, initiated by prosecutors or pursued by the abused women themselves—that may be available when a woman is abused by a man she met through an IMB. Download PDF
IMBRA requires both IMBs and the US government to distribute an information pamphlet/Fact Sheet detailing the legal rights and resources available to immigrating foreign brides who may be at risk of abuse in the United States. On October 27, 2010, US Citizenship and Immigration Services officially released this Fact Sheet (“Information on the Legal Rights Available to Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence in the United States and Facts about Immigrating on a Marriage-Based Visa”), which is available at: www.uscis.gov > Resources > Humanitarian-Benefit Based Resources > Resources for Battered Spouses, Children and Parents.
This short document provides a brief overview of IMBRA and then outlines the obligations IMBRA imposed on international marriage brokers as well as the changes IMBRA required in the government’s processing of fiancé(e)/spouse visa applications. It also provides section references to IMBRA provisions. Download PDF
If you have questions regarding our Campaign to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation through the International Marriage Broker (IMB) Industry, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or, sign up to receive our periodic Advocating for Justice E-lerts.
This document provides more extensive discussion of key questions and answers related to IMBRA, and goes into greater depth about the extent and nature of the problem of abuse in marriages resulting from IMB introductions. Download PDF
Illustrative Cases of Women and Their Children Exploited and Abused Through the International Marriage Broker Industry
This short document provides case stories that help demonstrate the need for greater protections for women using the services of international marriage broker agencies, and represents only a small sample of the many tragic cases that have been brought to Tahirih’s attention over the course of our Campaign. Download PDF
This short document lists pages and quotes from international marriage broker websites that expose how the industry’s business practices tend to establish a male client vs. female commodity dynamic, and how the industry’s marketing practices tend to hype gender, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes, even promoting foreign women as more subservient or as an overall better investment than their American counterparts. Download PDF
See Additional Resources for more information.