Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Upcoming Changes for Amcits & FSOs

It was bound to happen, and it happened swiftly and silently. "Mail Order Brides" have been long raised eyebrows and been the subject of many jokes, until the internet became mainstream enough that dating sites, both domestic and international, could flourish and even become profitable. Unfortunately, according to Senator Maria Cantwell, this leads to deception, violence, and other abuses:
Unfortunately, women meeting their husbands through brokers frequently have little opportunity to get to know their prospective spouses or assess their potential for violence. They also have little knowledge of their rights as victims of domestic violence in our country, even if they are not yet citizens or permanent residents. And tragically, it is becoming apparent that there is a growing epidemic of domestic abuse among couples who meet via international marriage brokers. Immigrant and women's advocacy groups across the country report seeing an increase in the number of these wives seeking to escape a physically abusive husband they met through an IMB. And in several cases, the abuse has progressed to murder.

The opacity of the internet allows for a certain amount of anonymity, which is not always dispersed when two individuals agree to have a relationship. In fact, the advantage is decidedly against the foreign fiance/spouse:
Today, an American seeking to marry someone through an international marriage broker holds all of the cards. The American client has the benefit of a complete background check on his future wife, which is a requirement of the immigration process. In addition, the brokers provide clients extensive information about the women they offer, everything from their favorite movies and hobbies to whether they are sexually promiscuous.

Conversely, the foreign fiancée only gets whatever information her future spouse wants to share. These women have no way of confirming what they are told about previous marriages or relationships -- or the American client's criminal history.

Most of the foreign brides advertised by the international marriage brokers come from countries where women are oppressed, have few educational or professional opportunities, and where violence against women is condoned, if not encouraged. Because of the cultural differences, researchers say there is an inherent imbalance of power in these relationships between American men and foreign women.

Because these women often immigrate alone, they have no family or other support network and rely on their husbands for everything. Such dependency can make it difficult for a wife to report abuse without worrying that doing so is a surefire ticket to deportation (ibid).

The resulting bill (HR3402) became law on January 5th, 2006 (unanimously in the Senate, 415 'ayes' in the House). The Bill is loosely termed the "Violence Against Women Act" (VAWA), but the section that applies here (as current and future FSOs) is Title VIII, Subtitle D, Sections 831-4 (begins on page 107). It strives to achieve a balance in the relationship between the "Petitioner" and "Beneficiary" by requiring transparency, especially on the part of the US-based Internation Marriage Brokers (IMBs). According to the law, these IMBs must collect certain data (namely background criminal histories and marital records) from their [American] clientele, and allow the 'beneficiary' the opportunity to review said information (along with a pamphlet highlighting appropriate rights and warnings) before approving or denying the release of their (the beneficiary's) contact information to the Amcit. The aforementioned pamphlet will also be mailed with each K visa app, and made publicly available at all consular posts. Additionally, the law calls for the establishment of a "multiple petition database". Yes, some of these scum make multiple simultaneous petitions for multiple fiances. I personally know of at least one case, and I live in a fairly remote part of the country.

This legislation has been loudly opposed by the IMB community, claiming it is an invasion of privacy, and that it is unconstitutional (see here and here or Google Search 1 or Search 2). First of all, I'm disappointed to tell you that one's right to privacy is not a specific Constitutional right--it is an inferred one. Secondly, in an equally balanced relationship (read: Normal), there is a great deal of transparency, and the mutually understood right to know as much or as little about the background of one's partner. It shouldn't have to be legislated, but sadly, too many people have insisted upon taking advantage of their fellow man. Thirdly, if the Amcit is truly interested in finding his or her life mate, s/he should have no qualms about sharing this information up front, as it would normally be divulged anyway. The ones who have something to hide are the loudest complainers.

One suggested solution has been to 'offshore' many of the IMBs, in an attempt to circumvent the law. However, this suggestion overlooks the fact that their fiance, spouse, and/or victim still needs permission to come to the States.

As FSOs, this will directly impact how certain interviews are conducted:
During an interview with an applicant for a K nonimmigrant visa, a consular officers [sic] shall—
(A) provide information, in the primary language of the visa applicant, on protection orders or criminal convictions collected under subsection (a)(5)(A)(iii);
(B) provide a copy of the pamphlet developed under subsection (a)(1) in English or another appropriate language and provide an oral summary, in the primary language of the visa applicant, of that pamphlet; and
(C) ask the applicant, in the primary language of the applicant, whether an international marriage broker has facilitated the relationship between the applicant and the United States petitioner, and, if so, obtain the identity of the international marriage broker from the applicant and confirm that the international marriage broker provided to the applicant the information and materials required under subsection (d)(3)(A)(iii). (HR3402)

But is it a good law, a necessary law? For most [normal] citizens it may be unnecessary, superfluous. The demands, although perhaps a bit discomfiting, are neither outrageous nor outside of the 'rights' we traditionally wish to be privy to in a relationship. But for the unscrupulous few, it could not have come soon enough.

It certainly empowers the foreign beneficiary, by informing them not only of their rights should they come to the US, but also warns them of potential hazards and things to watch out for. The law furthers places the relationship on increasingly equal ground by permitting the fiance/spouse the opportunity to review the 'history' of his or her romantic interest, without fear that they are being lied to. This can only be a good thing. There is an increased burden on the part of the FSO, who typically conducts NIV K-visas within the space of a few short minutes; whether this results ultimately in an increased need for interviewing officers, or a lesser workload (and a longer wait time for the applicants) is yet to be seen.

Stay tuned...