Criminalizing Matchmaking: Mail Order Marriage Laws

During his recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, actor Alec Baldwin, who has been involved in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife for years, offended many people when he said that he would love to have more children and was “thinking about getting a Filipino mail-order bride.”  Mr. Baldwin has since apologized for the insensitive comment and admitted that “such anger and frustration about the issue of sex trafficking is understandable.”   Admittedly, some mail order marriages are the result of sex trafficking, but does this mean that countries should criminalize the mail order marriage industry as the Philippines has done?

The Philippines has two statutes addressing mail order marriages.  Republic Act No. 6955, enacted in 1990, makes it a crime for any person to “carry on a business which has its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction.”  The penalty for violation of the Act is a minimum six years imprisonment.  In addition, if the offender is a foreigner, he will be deported (after serving his sentence) and permanently banned from Philippines.

In 2003, the Philippines enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act,which, among other things, makes it illegal “To introduce or match for money, profit, or material, economic or other consideration . . . any Filipino woman to a foreign national, for marriage for the purpose of acquiring, buying, offering, selling or trading him/her to engage in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage.”   The penalty for violation of the Anti-Trafficking Act is 20 years imprisonment and a minimum fine of one million pesos.

Despite these laws, the mail order bride industry continues to flourish.  Experts estimate that one-third to one-half of all foreign fiancees who enter the United States each year met their American husbands-to-be through an international marriage broker.  A large majority of the women come from Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, and the law has had little effect on international marriage brokers who do a lot of their advertising and matching online.  Although the United States also has laws regulating the mail order bride industry, some commentators argue that these marriages exacerbate gender, race, and class inequalities and thus, the United States should follow the Philippines’ approach.  Thoughts?

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11 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    I would think that the Philipino’s standard of living is likely increased by a move from the Phillipines to the United States. And it is likely that her future children’s well being is also improved. If anything, it seems the relationship would therefore reduce gender and race inequalities.

  2. Jack Krevins says:

    I wouldn’t do it, but I fail to see the argument against it. It is free speech and it is romance and hopefully love. People meet on Second Life and World of Warcraft and Match.com and eHarmony…what is the difference?

  3. Marcia Zug says:

    The argument against it is that it can create a very dangerous situation for women. Women who are seeking better lives put a lot of trust in these services and the men they match them with but not infrequently the result are catastrophic. Many of the men interested in mail order brides believe they will be more docile and subservient than American women, if/when these women fail to live up to such expectations they frequently become the victims of abuse and on occasion murder. In response to the murder of one mail order bride, Anastasia King, Congress passed the International Marriage Broker regulation act, incorporated in The Violence Against Women Act, which requires background checks for all marriage visas and limits serial visa applications.

  4. Kevin says:

    Marcia Zug: That is an interesting argument, but to evaluate it, we would need evidence concerning what proportion of women end up in these abusive relationships and how bad they are. We would then need to weigh that against the improved standard of living and quality of life that all the rest of the wives experience. We would also need to consider the value that the husbands accrue from mail-order-marriages.

    Without performing this exercise, the argument is merely anecdotal. I, for one, am not keen on restricting peoples’ freedom through paternal regulation based on anecdotes.

  5. The funny thing is, the women think of it as getting mail order husbands. They’re generally quite enthusiastic about the whole thing, my wife is continually pestered by her cousins back home to find them husbands. You do realize that the men don’t get to pick the women, it’s little more than an international dating service, with no guarantee that any of the women, let alone the one you might prefer, will pick YOU?

    It’s the main thing that keeps internet cafes running in the Philippines, and remitances from the women are a major support to the Philippine economy. Perhaps that’s why I noticed no evidence of enforcement of this law, beyond the manditory “your rights as a foreign bride” class the women have to complete before leaving the country.

    I met my wife through such an outfit, and we’re both quite happy about it. I’d ask Marcia whether she has hard numbers to back up that “frequently”; I’ve met a fair number of such couples, and “henpecked” would be a better description of the relationships, though in a mild way. If there was any abuse going on, it might have been a patient form of immigration fraud, women who were only willing to put up with their new husbands until their status in the US was permanent.

    It’s true, the whole thing makes some people very unhappy; The American women who don’t want to compete with younger foreign women who actually look forward to being housewives, the foreign men who don’t want to compete with American machinists and engineers. But, not the men and women who are actually taking part in the arrangement.

  6. Marcia Zug says:

    Unfortunately, there are many sources that back me up even though actual numbers are hard to find, but that is frequently a problem with domestic violence issues in general. I apologize if my comments have offended anyone. The frequent criticism of the law is that it brands all men interested in mail order brides as potential abusers. This is a valid criticism but does not address the fact that abuse in such marriages has been shown to be more likely.

    The following excerpt is from the US Citizen and Immigration Services:

    “While no national figures exist on abuse of alien wives, there is every reason to believe that the incidence is higher in this
    population than for the nation as a whole. Authorities agree that abuse in these marriages can be expected based on the men’s
    desire for a submissive wife and the women’s desire for a better life. At some point, after the alien bride has had time to adjust to
    the new environment, to make new friends, and to become comfortable with the language, her new independence and his
    domination are bound to conflict. The problem, according to Mila Glodava (Glodava and Onizuka, 1994) and Uma Narayan
    (Narayan, 1995), is largely due to the men’s unrealistic expectations. While many state a desire for a submissive wife, they find
    that such dependence becomes a burden. To provide some relief, the husband seeks ways (friends, activities) that will get the
    wife “out of the house” on occasion. The resulting independence then angers the husband who manifests the anger on the wife,
    who may have only been guilty of trying to please her husband. ”
    http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/MobRept_AppendixA.pdf

    Similarly in European Connections & Tours, Inc. v. Gonzales, which concerned a challenge to the International Marriage Broker Act the district court judge stated the following:

    “The rates of domestic violence against immigrant women are much higher than those of the U.S. population as a whole and have in common with women brokered through international marriage brokers a number of factors, including the dependency of the immigrant woman on the U.S. citizen for her legal status. ( Id. at pp. 68-69.) An estimated 70% of abusive U.S. citizen spouses, including those who consummate relationships through IMBs, withhold the filing of the proper paperwork necessary to validate the legal status of their immigrant female partners to cause them to fall out of legal status and to hold the threat of jail or deportation over the woman. ( Id.) Estimates by the National Institute on Justice are that over 73 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported. (Tr. at pp. 77.)

    While many cases do go unreported, there have been notable cases of extreme violence committed by United States citizens toward “mail-order brides.” These cases have occurred across the United States, including in the states of Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. 151 Congr. Rec. S 17353 (2005). A review of the details of the cases, as presented to the Senate, indicates that many of the cases involved the drugging, isolation, stalking, sexual abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, and, in some instances, even the murder of the female, immigrant spouse. See id. Furthermore, the United States male perpetrators of these crimes often were involved with multiple foreign women and were seeking to become involved with other foreign women at or around the time they committed the crimes.”

    See also, Michelle J. Anderson, A License To Abuse: The Impact of Conditional Status on Female Immigrants, 102 Yale L.J. 1401, 1402-03 (1993) describing the higher rates of abuse for immigrant women

  7. What I see there is reasoning that abuse *ought* to be more common, but a lack of hard numbers. But I will agree that anybody expecting one of these women to be “submissive” is setting themselves up for disappointment.

    I just want to underscore that “mail order bride” is a very misleading term. What we’re talking about here is are online dating systems, which in no way guarantee that a marriage will ever result. All they do it provide a means for interested parties to find each other, and it ends there. In my experience, once the couples become interested, they switch to other chat services such as yahoo messenger, and the involvement of the original service ends.

    It’s about as shady as any dating service.

  8. Kevin says:

    All this says is that there are theoretical reasons to think that mail order brides might be abused more than home-grown wives. I, for one, would think a government should have to meet a higher burden than an unsupported theory should it want to outlaw a consensual relationship.

  9. Frank Johnson says:

    I think Layli Miller-Muro (who drafted and propagandized IMBRA in order to get more tax dollars for her organization, the Iranian radical religious group the Tahirih Justice Center cult) as well as the U.S. government should keep their big noses out of people’s private affairs. If Uncle Sam wants to snoop, he should do a thorough investigation of Layli Miller-Muro’s lies and scams, her Iranian radical religious cult the Bahai Faith and Layli’s Tahirih Justice Center’s mis-use of huge unaudited sums of taxpayer money for fraudulent means, especially her money laundering for the Bahai Faith.

  10. Delphi_Programmer says:

    I think claims that men seek “submissive” wives is grossly overstated. Most men are just seeking a woman who will accept them for who they are. Women in the Unites States have very high material standards. These include looks, achievement, youth, money and social status, among other things. Many men do not fit into this narrow window of expectation. The ability to expand and seek women from around the world gives men the opportunity to 1) gain increased exposure, and 2) find a woman who will be happier with what he has to offer in his present situation.

    When these men marry, I would think they’d be more appreciative of their foreign brides on the whole. I know I am. We are not looking for a made, sex servant or prostitute. We are looking for a friend and companion. What is so criminal about that?

  11. Ben says:

    I think all the talk about the American men being abusers and shouldn’t be allowed to marry women from another country, is untrue and far-fetched.