Washington Examiner reporter Alan Suderman says “Maryland lawmakers are pushing for tighter regulations on the mail-order bride industry.”
There is no question Maryland can write more regulations. But can regulation solve market failure?
Suderman says three dozen Maryland House members want to “close the loopholes in current federal law and alert would-be foreign brides, who often come from poorer countries, of the criminal history of their suitors.” The market failure they want to solve is that prospective brides lack full information about potential suitors, and while a federal law was enacted in 2005 to solve the market failure, it didn’t: the law only requires self-disclosure of criminal records, which admittedly seems unlikely to do much. To close this “loophole,” the bill would require agencies in the mail-order bride business to conduct background checks instead of relying on self-certification.
Suderman quotes one agency owner who points out, correctly, that incomplete information cuts both ways. While it is true that prospective brides lack sufficient information about their suitors, prospective husbands also lack sufficient information about prospective brides. Some are primarily motivated by the prospect of securing a Green Card and future citizenship. Encounters International owner Natasha Spivack says federal law “allows foreign-born brides to more easily obtain green cards by falsely accusing their husbands of abuse.” The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (Title VIII, Subtitle D of the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, Pub. L. 109-162) does not include a parallel provision requiring the disclosure of relevant information about prospective brides. Indeed, Title VIII Subtitle A has extensive provisions that incentivize false claims.
By requiring agents to perform background checks, Maryland legislators would lead some prospective brides not to accept offers from suitors with criminal records. It also might lead agents to leave the state and set up shop elsewhere, thus shifting the location of the market failure but not reducing it. The new regulations would offer no help to honest prospective suitors.
Meanwhile, Natasha Spivack defends her business by noting that “few of her clients have criminal records and many of them are government officials.” Suderman does not report the size of the union of these two sets.
Section 833(d)(2)(B) (search for p. 113 at the top): Background Information.–The international marriage broker shall collect a certification signed (in written, electronic, or other form) by the United States client accompanied by documentation or an attestation of the following background information about the United States client:
(i) Any temporary or permanent civil protection order or restraining order issued against the United States client.
(ii) Any Federal, State, or local arrest or conviction of the United States client for homicide, murder, man- slaughter, assault, battery, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, sexual exploitation, incest, child abuse or neglect, torture, trafficking, peonage, holding hostage, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, unlawful criminal restraint, false imprisonment, or stalking.
(iii) Any Federal, State, or local arrest or conviction of the United States client for—
(I) solely, principally, or incidentally engaging in prostitution;
(II) a direct or indirect attempt to procure prostitutes or persons for the purpose of prostitution; or
(III) receiving, in whole or in part, of the pro- ceeds of prostitution.
(iv) Any Federal, State, or local arrest or conviction of the United States client for offenses related to controlled substances or alcohol.
(v) Marital history of the United States client, including whether the client is currently married, whether the client has previously been married and how many times, how previous marriages of the client were terminated and the date of termination, and whether the client has previously sponsored an alien to whom the client was engaged or married.
(vi) The ages of any of the United States client’s children who are under the age of 18.
(vii) All States and countries in which the United States client has resided since the client was 18 years of age.