State proposal aims to protect foreign brides
MAIL-ORDER: Women could check backgrounds of potential mates
February 26, 2002
Paula Lavigne Sullivan; The News Tribune
Foreign mail-order brides would have access to criminal records of men they might marry through a proposed Washington law that would be the first of its kind nationwide.
The legislation would require international matchmaking or "mail-order bride" companies to provide criminal conviction and marital history information to women upon request, and to let them know the information is available.
Representatives of matchmaking businesses say that while the intent of the legislation is good, it should instead target federal immigration laws and not their industry.
Senate Bill 6412, the subject of a hearing Monday in Olympia by the state House Committee on Commerce and Labor, has ties to the case of Anastasia King, a mail-order bride from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
A Snohomish County jury on Thursday convicted King's husband, Indle King Jr., of murdering Anastasia in September 2000. She was his second mail-order wife. At his sentencing March 27, he faces up to 28 years in prison.
The legislation likely would not have made a difference to Anastasia King as she already knew about her husband's prior marriage and he had no felony record, said Snohomish County chief criminal deputy prosecutor Jim Townsend.
Nevertheless, Townsend said something should be done to address problems with the mail-order bride industry or "she won't be the last Anastasia."
"This is a far bigger problem than the State of Washington," he said.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), said giving foreign women access to criminal background and marital history would empower them to make a better decision about a potential mate in America.
"We all place a high value on being able to freely select our romantic partners," she said. "But we also place a high value on making informed choices."
Gabriela Villareal, staff assistant at the University of Washington Women's Center, said mail-order brides often come into these relationships lacking the language, social or financial skills to assert their rights.
"She really doesn't have all the tools she needs," she said, adding that information about criminal histories could provide some balance.
The legislation would require companies to let prospective spouses, or "recruits," know they can get criminal and marital history information about any Washington client. If the woman asks for the information, the company could arrange no further contact between the two until the client provided it.
The law would apply to both sexes, though almost all online services are for men seeking foreign women.
Two representatives of the international matchmaking industry said Monday that requiring criminal background checks might not be a bad idea, but said that should be part of federal immigration requirements.
"I'm all for specifically having the man complete a background and criminal history check when he files for that fiancee visa," said Craig Jay Rich, president of www.volgagirl.com in Boonton, N.J. "But what the State of Washington is trying to do is ridiculous. ... It's a very knee-jerk, emotional reaction."
Putting the burden on the companies to make sure foreign women know about their right to request criminal background information would be complicated and difficult to enforce, Rich said. Sometimes companies can't tell what state their client is from, he said, and many don't give their real names.
John Adams, co-owner of A Foreign Affair, a Phoenix-based online site, said his company would have no problem complying with the law - he actually worked with Washington legislators to make some changes on it. But he doubts it would do any good.
Several companies, especially those that operate overseas, will likely ignore it, he said. And the problem of domestic abuse of foreign spouses is much larger than couples represented by the international matchmaking industry, he said.
About 4,000 of the 132,000 female spouses - or 3 percent - who came to the United States in 1997 were mail-order brides, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Adams said changes in federal law would be better because they would apply to all foreign spouses.
Kohl-Welles agreed, and said sponsors of the bill have sent a letter to Washington's congressional delegation asking for such changes. But she said the state law is still necessary.
"This should be done in Congress. That can be very slow, as you know," she said. "This is a good start."
If the legislation passes, Washington would be the first state to require companies to provide criminal background information if requested.
The INS already requires U.S. residents who want to bring someone over from a foreign country to marry to provide general information, including marital history, but not prior criminal convictions. Applicants also must show that they are financially able to support their new spouse.
INS officials in Seattle said Monday they did not want to comment on the proposed state legislation. But a recent report from the INS states that concerns about domestic violence involving foreign-born spouses were "well-founded," but there was not enough evidence to show that the matchmaking industry was a significant cause of the problem.
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* Reach staff writer Paula Lavigne Sullivan at 360-943-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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