Cantwell Bill To Protect Mail Order Brides Clears Important Hurdle

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Legislation to protect Mail Order Brides from Exploitation and Domestic Violence

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision Thursday morning to approve the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act. Approved as part of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, and ready for consideration by the full Senate, the Cantwell-Brownback bill will help foreign fiancées decide for themselves whether the situation they are entering into is safe.

"American spouses know all about their foreign fiancées; we’re only asking that the foreign-born spouses be afforded the same right to know," said Cantwell.

Under current practice, American clients can get all the information they want about foreign fiancées, while foreign fiancées only receive information that the men choose to share, and have no way to make sure what they are told is true. The Cantwell-Brownback bill would make information available to foreign women about the marital and violent criminal history of their prospective American husbands, and would require international marriage brokers to provide foreign fiancées with information about the rights and resources available to domestic violence victims in the U.S.

"Many of these matches result in happy, long unions, but there is a growing epidemic of domestic abuse among couples who meet through a broker," Cantwell said.

The risk of foreign women being abused, and in some cases murdered, by the men they meet through mail order bride agencies is heightened greatly when they do not have access to vital information about their potential spouse or their rights in the United States. Most of the foreign-born spouses come from countries where women have a lower standing in society, and where domestic violence is often deemed acceptable.

The murders of two young women in Washington state, Susanna Blackwell, from the Philippines, and Anastasia King, from Kyrgyzstan, by husbands they met through mail-order-bride agencies sparked the Washington state legislature to adopt legislation regulating the international marriage broker industry. Now, Cantwell is leading the fight to implement much-needed safeguards at the federal level to monitor the thousands of unions arranged by international marriage brokers each year.

"Mail order bride catalogs may seem like a relic from the past, but the use of marriage broker services has exploded in recent years with the growth of the Internet," Cantwell explained. "About 500 Internet sites exist solely to market foreign women, primarily from Eastern Europe and Asia, who are seeking American husbands."

In 1999, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 women had entered the U.S. using an International Marriage Broker during the previous five years. By 2004, those figures had more than doubled according to reports by the Tahirih Justice Center, a public policy advocacy center based in Virginia.