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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Louisiana Accused of Standing in Way of Love

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A U.S. citizen who was born abroad is challenging a new Louisiana law that denies some immigrants the right to marry.

The law, Act 436, which was signed into being in July 2015 and went into effect last January, "is an unlawful state attempt to usurp federal immigration law," according to a federal complaint filed by Viet "Victor" Anh Vo on Oct. 18.

Vo was born in an Indonesian refugee camp after his parents, Vietnamese nationals, fled Vietnam. He is a U.S. citizen now, and has been since childhood, but Act 436 has kept Vo and his girlfriend, and many other foreign-born citizens, from marrying in Louisiana, his lawsuit says.

The act places additional burdens on foreign-born applicants and their spouses, making it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain marriage certificates, the complaint says.

Vo's birth has never been officially recognized by Vietnamese or Indonesian authorities, and he was never issued a birth certificate.

He has lived in Louisiana since he was three months old and became a U.S. citizen when he was eight.

In 2016, when Vo and his girlfriend decided to marry, they went to multiple Louisiana parish clerks and were denied a marriage license in all of them because Vo does not have a valid birth certificate, a valid and unexpired passport, or an unexpired visa — the documents required under the new act.

"Vo meets all other requirements for obtaining a marriage license from the State of Louisiana, and would have been eligible for a marriage license but for his inability to provide the documents newly required by state law," the complaint says.

"The only impediments to Mr. Vo's ability to obtain a marriage license are the barriers Act 436 imposes on him because he was born outside of the United States," it continues.

Former Louisiana Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, who was born in Louisiana to an immigrant Indian-national father, signed Act 436 into existence in July 2015 as way to tighten immigration.

Before Act 436 went into effect, the rules for obtaining a marriage license were much less stringent.

To obtain a marriage license prior to the act in, for instance, Orleans Parish, the application could be filled out by either party wanting to marry, and just one of them needed to be present at the courthouse and could show documentation for both parties.

The only documentation required prior to Act 436 going into effect was a valid driver's license, current state identification or a passport, and a birth certificate or birth card, the lawsuit said. If the parties for any reason did not have a birth certificate or birth card, they could apply to have that requirement waived.

In July 2015, before Act 436 formally went into effect, State Sen. Conrad Appel, a Republican, warned that it would unnecessarily burden people like Vo, and that it would be a "mistake" to use marriage to regulate immigration, according to a statement released by the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, which filed Vo's lawsuit.

Louisiana lawmakers passed it anyway. Since the law went into effect in January, dozens of people seeking marriage licenses, mostly immigrants and refugees, have been turned away by parish clerks, the statement said.

Mary Yanik, an attorney with the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, said in a statement released by the center that the new law "panders to mean-spirited and regressive elements within Louisiana politics, instead of reflecting the welcoming spirit of most Louisianans and honoring the state's history as a birthplace of many of America's most important civil rights struggles."

Yanik said Gov. John Bel Edwards "has an opportunity to stand for a more progressive, equitable, and just Louisiana by rejecting this law."

The lawsuit was filed by Yanik as well as Karen Tumlin, Alvaro Huerta, and Nora Preciado of the National Immigration Law Center.

Follow @SabrinaCanfiel2
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