Proxy marriages, or marriages that take place over a video chat service, are a truly 21st century phenomenon. Now what was once a rare occurrence is quickly growing into a full fledged cultural renaissance as immigrants take advantage of the internet to marry distant loved ones, and the government is struggling to ascertain the legality and legitimacy of these proceedings.
Long distance marriages aren’t a new concept; Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette when she was still in Austria before she was shipped to France. Prior to the internet’s existence, telegraph marriages had even been documented. Now people all over the world can communicate with the click of a mouse, but its taken some time for internet marriage to truly catch on. Initially the practice was primarily used by deployed service members looking to ensure their family’s financial well being in the event of their untimely demise. Now its taken a hold on another group of distant lovers. Via The New York Times:
With a red embroidered veil draped over her dark hair, Punam Chowdhury held her breath last month as her fiancé said the words that would make them husband and wife. After she echoed them, they were married. Guests erupted in applause; the bride and groom traded bashful smiles.
Normally one of the most intimate moments two people can share, the marriage had taken place from opposite ends of the globe over the video chat program Skype, with Ms. Chowdhury, an American citizen, in a mosque in Jackson Heights, Queens, and her new husband, Tanvir Ahmmed, in his living room with a Shariah judge in his native Bangladesh.
Their courtship, like so many others, had taken place almost entirely over the Internet — they had met in person only once, years earlier, in passing. But in a twist that underscores technology’s ability to upend traditional notions about romance, people are not just finding their match online, but also saying “I do” there.
The opportunity for immigrants to secure citizenship for their loved ones through proxy marriage is tremendous, and many like Ms. Chowdhury and Mr. Ahmmed are reaping the rewards. But still more seek to exploit this new phenomenon for nefarious purposes. Examples range from a U.S citizen marrying a Southeast Asian cousin to circumvent immigration to foreign men deceiving naive young women and luring them into trafficking networks. The practice is so new and has exploded so quickly that many immigration officials are admittedly unsure of how to properly monitor proxy marriage.
All people applying for American citizenship through marriage must first be interviewed by officials from the Homeland Security or State Department who are charged with rooting out fraud. Officials said that if the spouses were to explain they had been married thousands of miles apart over the Internet, it would quite likely raise a red flag.
And yet, while the agencies ask interviewees for details of their wedding during the immigration interviews, they do not specifically inquire whether it occurred by proxy.
Archi Pyati, the deputy director of the Immigration Intervention Project at the Sanctuary for Families, an organization that helps battered women, said the center frequently saw ways in which proxy marriage was abused. Some cases involve women, many from West Africa, who were married by proxy without their consent, or as children.
As with any technology, proxy marriage is a double edged sword. One can only hope that the government catches up with the times quickly enough to prevent more people from being hurt.