Homeland Security paperwork glitch delays thousands

True love waits for no one except maybe the Homeland Security Department.

Red tape has put wedding bells on hold for about 10,000 U.S. citizens seeking visas for their foreign brides and grooms as the department works on new paperwork for their applications.

The form change was required as part of a law, enacted in March, to protect foreign mail-order brides from abusive American spouses. But Homeland Security missed its deadline three months ago, putting the visa applications of thousands of law-abiding lovers in limbo.

The department said Tuesday it would send out additional forms to the visa seekers for more information that should satisfy the new law's protections.

But the bureaucratic entanglement has trashed wedding plans for many couples before they could get anywhere near the altar.

"We were ready to get married this year, but I can't really make a date until we get the approval," said Bill Hall, 41, a construction foreman. He applied two months ago for a visa for his fiancee, Debbie, to emigrate from Canada with her two sons. In separate interviews, the couple said they have been dating for six years.

"We're just kind of here, in limbo," Hall said. "And it's kind of aggravating it's a real simple thing they have to do, and they're making more of it than they need to."

He said his application, sent to Homeland Security in April, "never got approved. It's just sitting there."

The tale of these 10,000 belated nuptials illustrates a bureaucratic response to what all sides agree is a well-intentioned law to protect women.

Advocates estimate that as many as 15,000 foreign women annually meet their American husbands through for-profit marriage brokers. That number, provided by the Virginia-based Tahirih Justice Center, marks a sharp rise from a 1999 estimate by the former Immigration and Naturalization Services of 30,000 women who came to the United States through a marriage broker during the previous five years.

Spurred by stories of foreign women largely from Eastern Europe and Asia being abused or even murdered by their U.S. husbands, Congress in December approved new protections for mail-order brides. They included amending the application form for so-called fiancee visas with two new questions: Whether the romance was arranged by an international marriage broker, and had the U.S. citizen ever been accused of a violent crime or convicted of three or more alcohol- or drug-related crimes.

President George W. Bush signed the law on January 5, putting Homeland Security under order to draw up the new paperwork. But the forms weren't finished by March 6, when the law took effect resulting in the department shelving all fiancee visa applications written on the old forms that were received after that date, reports AP.


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