STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Ms. CANTWELL:
S. 1455. A bill to regulate international marriage broker activity in the United States, to provide for certain protections for individuals who utilize services of international marriage brokers, and for other services; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Ms. CANTWELL. I rise today to introduce the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2003. This legislation will provide much needed protections for the thousands of foreign women who meet their American husbands through for-profit Internet sites and catalogs.
While mail order bride catalogs may seem like a relic from the past, the use of marriage broker services has exploded in recent years with the growth of the Internet. While many of these matches result in happy, long unions, 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. In several cases, the abuse has progressed to murder.
A 1999 study found there were over 200 Internet sites marketing foreign women primarily from Eastern Europe and Asia seeking American husbands. Recent studies suggest that there are now as many as 400 currently operating in this country. These sites feature pictures of hundreds of women who, according to the Web sites, are looking to meet and marry an American man. The international marriage brokers operating these sites promise a wife with "traditional values," who will honor her husband.
Unfortunately, women meeting their husbands in this manner 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.
In my State of Washington alone there have been three cases of serious domestic violence including two murders of women who met their husbands through an Internet-based international marriage broker. Susanna Blackwell met her husband through an IMB and, in 1994, left her native Philippines to move to Washington to marry him. During their short marriage, Timothy Blackwell physically abused his wife regularly. Within a few months, she had left him and begun divorce proceedings. The Blackwells had been separated for more than a year when Timothy Blackwell learned Susanna was eight months pregnant with another man's child. On the last day of the divorce proceedings, Timothy Blackwell shot and killed Susanna, her unborn child, and two friends who were waiting outside of the Seattle courtroom.
In 1999, 18-year-old Anastasia Solovyova married Indle King, a man she met through an IMB. Entries from Anastasia's diary detail the abuse she suffered and the fear she had of her husband who threatened her with death if she were to leave him. In December 2000, Anastasia was found strangled to death and buried in a shallow grave in Washington. King's accomplice later told police that he strangled Anastasia with a necktie while King lay on her chest to keep her from moving. At trial, it was discovered that Indle King had previously married another woman he met through an internet IMB, who later got a domestic violence protection order against him before divorcing him in 1997. It was also discovered that he was seeking his third wife through an IMB when he and his accomplice developed the plot to kill Anastasia.
Unfortunately, there are similar examples across the country of women who have met their American spouses through an Internet IMB only to be seriously injured or killed by an American spouse with a preexisting history of violence against women.
My legislation is modeled on a groundbreaking Washington State law, the first State effort to regulate the international matchmaking industry. The Washington Legislature took action on this important issue after the Blackwell and King cases, and multiple States are currently looking at enacting similar legislation.
The primary goal of my legislation is to better inform women entering this country as fiancées and prospective spouses about the past history of their prospective spouse and to better inform them of their rights as residents of the United States if they become victims of domestic violence.
The bill would first of all halt the current practice of allowing Americans to simultaneously seek visas for multiple fiancées, by requiring that only one fiancée visa may be sought per applicant each year. Currently, multiple request for fiancée visas can be simultaneously filed with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration, and the American requesting the visa will simply choose to marry the first woman who is approved.
Second, my bill would require that, before an IMB may release the contact information of a foreign national client, it must first obtain her consent to the release of that information and second, provide her with information on the rights of victims of domestic violence in this country in her own language.
Third, the IMB would be required to ask American clients to provide information on any previous arrest, conviction or court-ordered restriction relating to crimes of violence along with their previous marital history. This information would also be made available to the foreign national.
Finally, it would require a U.S. citizen seeking a foreign fiancée visa to undergo a criminal background check, a check that is already performed for the fiancées entering the country themselves. Information on convictions and civil orders would be relayed to the visa applicant by the consular official along with information on their legal rights should they find themselves in an abusive relationship.
Currently, an American seeking to marry someone through an IMB holds all of the cards. The American client has the benefit of a complete background check on his future wife, a requirement of the immigration process. In addition, the IMBs 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.
Researchers describe the typical American client as Caucasian, educated, professional, and financially secure. More than half have been married once already and express a desire to find a bride with more "traditional values," attitudes they feel are not held by many American women today.
Most of the foreign brides advertised by the IMBs come from countries where women are oppressed, have a 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.
The men who seek these more traditional wives typically control the household finances and make basic decisons like whether the wife will have a driver's license, get a job or spend time with friends. 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. Researchers agree that isolation and dependency put these women at greater risk of domestic abuse.
Documenting the extent of this problem has been quite difficult. Marriages arranged by IMBs are not tracked separately from other immigrant marriages. However, experts agree that abuse is more likely in such an arranged marriages and that abuse in these relationships is likely underreported since the women are likely to be more afraid of deportation than the abuse they suffer at home.
Attempting to get a handle on the problem, the Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioned a study of the industry in 1999. The INS study estimated that there are more than 200 IMBs operating around the globe, arranging between 4,000 and 6,000 marriages between American men and foreign women every year. Experts today put the number of IMBs at nearly 500 worldwide. And based on the 1999 statistics, there are between 20,000 and 30,000 women who have entered the U.S. using an IMB in the past 5 years. While there are a few IMBs aimed at female clients, the overwhelming majority of people who seek IMB services are men.
IMBs also are being used as a cover for those seeking servants. That is what happened to Helen Clemente, a Filipina brought to the U.S. by retired Seattle-area police officer Eldon Doty and his wife, Sally. Eldon and Sally Doty had divorced to allow Eldon to marry Helen Clemente. However, Eldon and Sally Doty continued to live as man and wife, forcing Helene Clemente to work as their servant. After 3 years, Helen ran way. The Dotys have worked with INS in exchange for de facto immunity, while Helen Clemente continues to fight deportation.
It is critical for legal immigrants to know that they don't have to suffer abuse or work without pay to remain in this country. The Violence Against Women Act provided some safeguards for these female immigrants, ensuring that in cases of abuse a woman's immigration petition may proceed without the sponsorship of her abuser. That important legislation provided protections for women who come here and find themselves in abusive relationships; however, more can and should be done.
My legislation would give foreign financées critical information they need to make an informed decision about the person they are going to marry. It puts these foreign brides on more equal footing with their American grooms.
My legislation enjoys support from more than 80 organizations and advocacy groups across the country, including religious coalitions, laws firms, women's rights and social justice groups. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will support it as well.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.