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This week, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced a bill intended to stop child marriages, S. 742. While it is encouraging that lawmakers are paying attention to this issue, the bill unfortunately makes overly broad changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act which could have far reaching, negative consequences that ultimately do not serve the very children this bill claims to seek to protect.

This bill came in response to the report How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages, which focused on fiancé and spousal visas involving minors and revealed shocking statistics. The Tahirih Justice Center, a national leader in the movement to end forced and child marriage in the United States, remains deeply concerned by the findings of the report and urges lawmakers to instead support thoughtful legislation that does not have the potential to do more harm than good.

We also encourage legislators to capitalize on the momentum of this moment to take an approach to this problem that does not ignore our own longstanding, “home-grown” child marriage problem. Current state laws across America that allow children under the age of 18 to marry (over 200,000 minors legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2015) further enable child marriage through our immigration system. In fact, the report revealed that, more often than not, it is U.S. adult male citizens that are marrying minors overseas and bringing them to the United States, further underscoring how current immigration laws and U.S. state laws actually facilitate and sanction predatory behavior by U.S. citizens.

Tahirih agrees that legislation to improve policies and procedures to prevent child marriage through the U.S. immigration system is badly needed. However, we cannot support the current measure as written.

Tahirih calls on Congress to seize this rare moment for the federal government to take action to prevent child marriage both here and abroad and will continue to work with legislators on thoughtful, evidence-based reforms.

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