A U.S. Department of Justice news releases issued on Oct. 13, 2009 raises 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.
IMBRA regulates the fast-growing “international marriage broker” industry (commonly referred to as “mail-order bride agencies”), provides critical information to foreign brides about the criminal histories of their prospective American spouses, informs them of their legal rights and of resources available to them if they are abused, and makes changes in the foreign fiancé(e) and spouse visa application process to prevent abuse and exploitation by serial predators.
The DOJ news release, issued by the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), outlines all of OCAHO’s responsibilities, including its jurisdiction to hear and decide civil cases brought against IMBs that violate IMBRA. As the news release makes clear, however, OCAHO cannot hear IMBRA enforcement cases until a federal agency charged with enforcing IMBRA brings IMB violations to OCAHO’s attention.
The government’s continuing failure to fully implement and enforce the provisions of IMBRA—nearly four years after the law was enacted—withholds lifesaving protections from the thousands of foreign brides and their children who immigrate to the United States each year.
Over a year ago, a critical report regarding the government’s lack of progress on IMBRA was issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Among other concerns, the GAO report found that DOJ had yet to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to determine how civil and criminal violations of IMBRA by IMBs will be investigated, referred and prosecuted, leaving the law in the interim effectively unenforceable. The report identified the absence of an enforcement framework as a key government failure.
Tahirih led the national coalition that drafted and advocated for the passage of IMBRA. Tahirih appreciates DOJ’s announcement designating OCAHO as the forum for hearing civil cases, and sincerely hopes this development indicates only the beginning of further significant progress.
That said, as long as IMBRA implementation and enforcement is lagging, vulnerable foreign women who meet American men through IMBs will remain dangerously unaware of lifesaving information about a future partner’s violent criminal history and about their legal rights. Tahirih will continue to work with the national coalition to urge the government to fully implement and enforce IMBRA’s vital protections.