Mail-order love

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANASTASIA SOLOVIEVA was 18 years old, looking for love on the Internet and hoping an international matchmaking service would lead to a new husband in America.

The former music student from Kyrgyzstan wound up dead in Seattle, her American husband of two years convicted of her murder.

Mail-order brides such as Ms. Solovieva have to undergo a criminal background check to qualify for a fiancee visa to the United States -- now, several women's groups want prospective grooms who use international marriage brokers to be vetted in the same way. But it's a proposition that won't necessarily solve the problem.

Maybe Anastasia Solovieva King would have rethought her West Coast nuptials if she had known that a restraining order had been filed against her husband-to-be by his first mail-order bride. But who can say?

The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and other women's organizations are pushing for a federal law that would require criminal background checks of U.S. citizens applying for visas for an overseas fiancee. Advocates say more women who arrive in this country through international marriage brokers are showing up as crime victims, battered by spouses in textbook cases of domestic violence. But no statistics exist to document the problem or its extent.

There's no doubt that the story of Ms. Solovieva ended tragically; her husband was allegedly shopping for his third mail-order bride at the time of her murder.

But the criminal background check being promoted would only make information available to a prospective bride. It wouldn't necessarily keep a woman from Ukraine, the Philippines or Colombia from traveling to America to live her love story. In fact, some women may be willing to risk living with a potential abuser to become a U.S. citizen.

Immigrant women who fall prey to domestic violence should be helped. Regulating mail-order bride brokers may be one avenue -- the Web sites of some businesses certainly raise questions about what they're advertising. And yet here too the data on the industry are minimal.

Before lawmakers can seriously debate the issue, the NOW Legal Defense Fund should commission an extensive study on the industry and the victims of these marriages. That said, advocates should step up efforts to reach and educate immigrant brides who may be more vulnerable because of their social and cultural upbringing, language problems or sense of isolation. Until then, brides beware.

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