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'Mail-order bride' law brands all American men abusers

By Wendy McElroy
web posted January 16, 2006

The Violence Against Women Act signed by President Bush on Jan. 5 contains an almost unnoticed attachment.

Subtitle D, also known as the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBA), will become law when VAWA is enacted. The IMBA is an ostensibly noble measure with a surprising and ominous twist.

The scant attention directed toward the IMBA has been positive.

A headline in Washington State's The Daily Herald announced, "Mail-order brides gain protection" with the subtitle "The mother of a murdered immigrant hopes that pending federal legislation will keep foreign brides from abuse, neglect and slavery."

The "murdered immigrant" refers to Anastasia King, a "mail-order bride" from the former Soviet Union. In 2000, King was murdered by her husband in Washington State where the case created a sensation largely because the husband had violently assaulted a previous "mail-order bride."

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who championed the measure for years, introduced the IMBA to Congress.

Some parts sound reasonable. For example, U.S. consulates will provide "mail-order brides" with brochures that explain their legal rights.

Other parts sound draconian. For example, the IMBA requires American men who wish to correspond with foreign women through private for-profit matchmaking agencies to first provide those businesses with their police records and other personal information to be turned over to the women.

Corresponding with a foreigner is legal. Marrying a foreigner is legal. Immigrating spouses and their husbands go through rigorous and lengthy screening before visas are issued. U.S. laws against violence protect "mail-order brides."

Now American men who wish to pursue a legal activity must release their government files to a foreign business and foreign individuals for their personal benefit.

(Note: The act's language is gender-neutral but its clear purpose is to protect foreign women from predatory American men. Application to "male-order husbands" would be incidental as such 'brides' are relatively rare.)

The disclosure requirement is detailed under the provision entitled "Obligations of International Marriage Broker With Respect to Mandatory Collection of Information."

An international broker cannot provide contact or general information on a foreign woman to an American man unless that broker first collects and discloses to the woman the following information about the man:

  • Every state of residence since the age of 18;
  • Current or previous marriages as well as how and when they terminated;
  • Information on children under 18;
  • Any arrest or conviction related to controlled substances, alcohol or prostitution, making no distinction on arrests not leading to conviction;
  • Any court orders, including temporary restraining orders, which are notoriously easy to procure;
  • Any arrest or conviction for crimes ranging from "homicide" to "child neglect";
  • Any arrest or conviction for "similar activity in violation of Federal, State or local criminal law" without specifying what "similar" means.

U.S. law will provide foreign women with extensive government information on American suitors that is not similarly offered to American women — which it shouldn't it be either.

Contacting a woman for romantic purposes — internationally or domestically — is not a crime. Those who do so are not a priori criminals who must prove themselves innocent before being allowed an e-mail exchange.

How many American men will be impacted by the IMBA?

According to Larsen, between 8,000 and 12,000 American men find foreign wives through for-profit brokers each year. Presumably, a considerably higher number attempt, but fail to find a wife who successfully emigrates.

Next to no statistics are available on how many "mail-order" marriages are happy.

A report on "the problem" by CBS accurately states, "No firm statistics exist on the extent of abuse suffered by mail-order brides, or even the numbers of such women."

The few media accounts that provided background for the IMBA referred to two "mail-order brides" who were murdered: Anastasia King in 2000 and Susanna Blackwell in 1995.

The murders are deplorable, but no solid foundation of data underlies Cantwell's claim of "a growing epidemic of domestic abuse among couples who meet through a broker."

There is no reason to believe that violence against "mail-order brides" is higher than against women in general. No evidence supports the criminalization of every American man who looks overseas for a wife.

And, yet, such men are easy targets. Men who seek wives abroad often explicitly state that women here are not worth marrying because they are too independent, ruined by feminism or "fill in the pejorative blank." If some of those ideal wives subsequently say "goodbye" at the first glimpse of a green card, I can't muster much sympathy.

What I do sympathize with, however, are the privacy rights of people who are considered guilty until proven innocent. This is especially true when a government violates the privacy of its own citizens to benefit foreign individuals.

What view of the American man does the IMBA broadcast to the world? American men are so predatory and violent that the U.S. government must protect foreign women by providing police checks before allowing the men to say "hello."

The "Ugly American" has become an article of federal law, supported by Congress.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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