Frontera Fund News Resources

Marriage Denied: Broad Anti-Immigrant Laws Are Trampling Love

Written by Carmen Cornejo

Refugees sometimes experience incredible hardships years after they flee war zones.

Out Xanamane was born at home in Laos in 1975, when the Southeast Asian country was taken over by the Communist Pathet Lao movement. The brutal civil war took the lives of up to 70,000 Laotians. Xanamane’s family fled the war-torn country and ended up in Louisiana in 1986, after stops in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. Currently, he has permanent resident status and is applying for citizenship. This year, the state of Louisiana is denying him a marriage license.

Dozens of refugees seeking to get married in Louisiana are being denied the right to tie the knot since the legislature passed a bill that requires every foreign-born person to show a birth certificate and an unexpired passport or visa to get a marriage license. It is not unusual for refugees like Xanamane not to have a birth certificate.

Why would the legislature block the right of people to marry? State Rep. Valerie Hodges (R-LA), the sponsor of the legislation, said the law “prevents undocumented immigrants from marrying solely to get immigration benefits and would help prevent terrorists from getting green cards and citizenship.”

The legislators supporting this law ignored voices of reason: “If you are trying to use marriage as an immigration (regulation) tool, I think that’s a mistake,” Sen. Conrad Appel, a Republican, told senators in June 2015 before they voted.

In their misguided attempt to deny benefits to undocumented individuals, lawmakers wrote broad legislation that is blocking people from obtaining a service that is highly protected by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an earlier decision, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny a license to an undocumented immigrant who was marrying a U.S. citizen.

Moreover, after passing restrictive anti-immigrant laws in 2011, some Alabama counties started refusing to issue marriage licenses to immigrants without documentation. But the counties stopped requiring proof of citizenship in 2013 after a federal lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Other former refugees affected by this measure filed a complaint against Louisiana with the help of the National Immigration Law Center on October 16, 2016.

The state is poised to lose.