LOUISIANA HEARTLESS MARRIAGE LAW

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD OCT. 18, 2016

Last year, Louisiana lawmakers considered a handful of bills that sought to make the state as inhospitable as possible to new immigrants. Local law enforcement officials helped defeat one that would have penalized cities like New Orleans and Lafayette for their policies that limit cooperation between local police departments and federal immigration authorities.

But one bill championed by State Representative Valarie Hodges, a Republican, passed by a broad margin. Under that measure, which went into effect in January, non-citizens in Louisiana are required to produce a copy of their birth certificate and an unexpired visa to get a marriage license. Ms. Hodges claimed the law would curb fraud and terrorism. “We don’t want terrorists obtaining green cards and citizenship through marriage,” she told a radio station.

There is no evidence that Louisiana courthouses have become gateways for foreign-born fraudsters or terrorists. But in recent months, county clerks have had to turn away couples who were ready to marry, forcing some to come up with expensive backup plans, like traveling out of state. This is discriminatory and violates the legal principle that marriage licenses can’t be denied because of a person’s immigration status, authorized or not.
Beyond deterring undocumented people from obtaining marriage licenses, the law has also prevented refugees and other lawful immigrants from marrying. Many immigrants come from countries where births are not automatically registered; others cannot easily obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. Even those who do have the document must spend money to get it translated.

Louisiana appears to be the first state to have enacted a law that makes it harder for immigrants to marry. A federal judge in 2008 ruled that a similar policy in Luzerne County, Pa., was unconstitutional. In recent weeks, local and national immigrant advocacy groups have been working with prospective plaintiffs to challenge the constitutionality of the Louisiana law in court.

Immigrants in Louisiana are singled out and “subjected to different requirements when they want to get married,” said Alvaro Huerta, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center. This law is a cruel affront to their dignity and should be struck down.

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A version of this editorial appears in print on October 18, 2016, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Louisiana’s Heartless Marriage Law.

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