Foreign wife market rife with sharks 

The women whose pictures appear on the Internet's foreign bride sites are often described as "loving, loyal, sexy and kind" with "good complexion" and "athletic build." Others are "intelligent, hardworking, beautiful, good sense of humor." Some may be "mature, voluptuous, adventurous and well educated." But a growing number of them are describing themselves as abused and scared after arriving in the United States.

Anna Blau, director of International Women's House, a shelter in Decatur that serves the immigrant and refugee community, estimates that about 20 percent of the women who have stayed there since the shelter opened in 1997 are "Inter- net brides" who have been beaten by the men who "ordered" them.

"It's becoming more common," says Blau, whose shelter is a refuge for more than 100 women each year.

Recently, says Blau, a Bosnian woman came to the International Women's House seeking sanctuary from her American husband. The woman had advertised her desire for marriage on one of the many bride sites. The man brought her and her 10-year-old daughter home to his small farm in south Georgia, where the woman agreed to help out with the work.

But the work turned out to be more than she bargained for. He expected her to mow pastures, plant vegetables, rake leaves and feed the chickens -- who liked their breakfast at 4:30 a.m.

"When she told him that she wasn't used to this kind of work, he got angry," says Blau. "And eventually went after her with a shotgun."

Other Internet brides may know more about what they're getting into than did this particular Bosnian woman, says Blau, but their legal status may be precarious.

Indian women who advertise for a husband on the Internet quite often have the benefit of family support. They may fastidiously research their future mate, but just like their Russian and eastern European counterparts, some of them agree to come to the U.S. on "fiancee" visas which allow them to legally be in the U.S. for only 90 days. If they marry by the end of that time, they gain the status of being the spouse of an American citizen. If, however, they don't marry, they are in the U.S. illegally. An immigrant who now works at the shelter and who did not wish to be identified explains that many men are keenly aware of the predicament this creates for a fiancee and refuse to marry the woman right away. They then threaten the woman with deportation if she doesn't do as she is told.

Sue Brown, public affairs officer for the Immigration and Naturalization's Atlanta office, says her agency doesn't take personal matters into account. The INS's job is to make sure that people who are here illegally are deported. Whatever line these prospective husbands may have fed their fiancees, the men have legally done nothing wrong and the women have to leave.

Other potential husbands, however, make an honest mistake with serious consequences.

"Some of them think that they want a wife from what they think is their own culture," says the anonymous shelter worker. "They think they want a virgin, or someone with traditional values. But what these men don't realize is that they themselves have been here in America for a long time -- they're American. They get this woman with whom they can't communicate, who isn't a friend or a peer, and they see them as nothing. That's how they treat them."

Most Internet brides are from the Philippines, but the fastest growing delegation is from the states of the former Soviet Union: the Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan and others. Some are from mangled war zones like Bosnia. Some, on websites where parents or siblings post the advertisements for their daughters or sisters, are Indian.

Many of the 18-year-olds look younger than that. Some of the 40-year-olds look older.

The sheer number of these women searching for husbands is staggering. One "international matrimonial organization," as the Justice Department refers to them, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of international women available for marriage via the Internet.

In 1996, the number of abuse cases being reported prompted Congress to request that the Justice Department and the INS conduct a study of mail-order marriages. The study showed that mail-order -- including Internet -- matches are responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 visas being issued each year. That accounts for slightly less than 4 percent of all visas issued to female spouses.

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