Washington State Senate bill to regulate "Mail-Order Bride" industry becomes law on September 1, 2002.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 10/27/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5580

On September 1, 2002, a Washington State Senate bill (SB 6412) regulating the so-called "Mail Order Bride" industry becomes law. The bill responds to concerns that International Matchmaking Organizations (IMOs), which import women from impoverished countries to marry men from the United States and elsewhere, engage in widespread human trafficking. The bill, in gender-neutral language, requires IMOs doing business in Washington state to notify foreign nationals in their native language that they have a right to request a criminal background check and marital history information on Washington clients. The IMOs are then required to provide that information upon request. Introduced by State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and opposed by the IMOs, the bill is passed following the murders of two "mail-order brides" by their husbands, among other cases of exploitation and abuse.

The bill was passed following the work a Task Force convened by the Washington Legislature in the summer of 2002 (via House Bill 2398, introduced by Representative Velma Veloria). The Task Force was a response to "a growing number of reports about persons being brought into the state for purposes of exploitation of their labor and bodies" (Kohl-Welles). In 2003, the bill was amended to add the following to information that must be provided upon request -- "founded complaints of child abuse and neglect as well as domestic violence protection orders."

Matchmaking or Trafficking?

Within the United States in 1999 some 200 IMO organizations function, and some 4,000-6,000 marriages resulted. All of the arriving women are not "trafficked" -- traded like merchandise. Some consider the IMOs a legitimate way to find a life partner. But many human rights and victims' advocates consider it a legalized form of international trafficking.

It is clear that women coming into the United States via IMOs are vulnerable. They are often impoverished, usually have limited English skills, and leave behind their family, culture, and support system. Many of the "suitors," who pay a fee of $155 a year for e-mail addresses and some $3,000 for trips to interview potential brides, apply for five visas at once, and marry the first "bride" to arrive. There are many stories of violence and abuse.

Killer Husbands

In Washington, two women who entered the state through an IMO were killed by their husbands. One of them, Susana Blackwell, was engaged in divorce proceedings when her husband shot her and two of her friends in King County Courthouse. The other, Anastasia King, returned to her home country, Kyrgyzstan in the former Soviet Union, in an attempt to end the marriage. Her husband followed her, persuaded her to return to the United States with him, and killed her upon arrival in Washington state.

In a third case a Filipina, Helen Clemente, was brought illegally to the United States on the pretext of a marriage. Instead, retired Seattle police officer Eldon Doty continued living with his divorced wife Sally Doty and the two forced Clemente into servitude. It was three years before she ran away.

Would You Marry This Man?

In response to the rather mild provisions of this bill to make available information that anyone would want to know about a potential spouse, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles received a storm of mail from infuriated clients of International Matchmaking Organizations. One correspondent condemned the bill as a "communist" and "typically female" plot (Paynter). Many correspondents declared that requiring background checks would put the Internet out of business, although they failed to explain how this would happen.

An Air Force reservist wrote the following:

"What a bunch of narrow-minded women installed in power positions, stepping on the rights of all American men! It's the liberal women that is the fault of the Sept. 11 bombing of New York! If you hate American men so much you should be exported to Afghanistan and take Jane Fonda, Madam Albright and Janet Reno ... and all the MADD [Mothers Against Drunken Driving] along too. Fifty years ago when American men drank beer and run over kids playing in the streets this country was far better off then [sic] now with liberal women running things. One foreign woman went down [i.e., was murdered] and now all American men must pay the price?" (Quoted in Paynter).

In contrast, a few clients of IMOs saw no reason why anyone above board would have any reason to object.

U.S. Congressional Bills

In July 2003, Senator Maria Cantwell introduced a bill to regulate international marriage broker activities in the U.S. Senate (S. 1455) and Representatives Larsen, Kirk, and Inslee introduced one in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2949). The bills, if passed into law, will address the same issues as do the Washington state law.


Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Washington State Senator, "Regulating the 'Mail-Order Bride' Industry: Initial Solutions from Washington State," paper presented at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, June 22, 2003, Washington, D.C., typescript in possession of Jeanne Kohl-Welles; Jan Jarboe Russell, "Larsen, Cantwell Aim to Protect Mail-order Brides," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 29, 2003 accessed on October 31, 2003 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com); David Fisher, "King Gets 28-year Prison Sentence for Killing Mail-order Bride," Ibid. March 29, 2002; Susan Paynter, "Mail-Order Bride Bill Spurs Plenty of Angry Mail," Ibid., February 11, 2002; International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2003 S 1455, 108th Cong. 1st Session, July 25 (legislative day, July 21), 2003, "Thomas Legislative Information on the Internet" (Library of Congress) (http://thomas.loc.gov); "International Marriage Broker Regulation Act" (H.R. 2949), July 25, 2003, Ibid.

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