(ESPAÑOL) In Louisiana, a little-noticed new state law has effectively made immigrant marriages illegal.
Undocumented workers and even terrorists had newly discovered they could exploit Louisiana’s marriage laws to gain citizenship, legislators claimed, leading to a supposed epidemic of “marriage fraud.”
The response? Make it more difficult for immigrants to get married.
So, as of this year, any foreign-born person wanting to get married in Louisiana must produce both an unexpired visa (even though a federal court has ruled that marriage licenses cannot be denied based on immigration status), as well as, somewhat inexplicably, a birth certificate.
No birth certificate, no marriage, no excuses.
The law has indeed placed marriage off-limits to immigrants in the country illegally, as intended. But it’s hurt plenty of legal immigrants, too. Louisiana is home to thousands of refugees, predominantly Vietnamese and Laotians who received asylum in the 1970s and 1980s after fleeing war and communism in their homelands.
The law received little attention when it went into effect in January. Which means people such as Out Xanamane often learn about it only when they get turned away at the courthouse.
Xanamane was born in a village near Savannakhet, Laos, in 1975, the year the country fell to communism. Born at home, he never received a birth certificate.
Xanamane’s family arrived in Louisiana in 1986, after spending time in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. He has lived in the United States ever since and is now a U.S. permanent resident in the process of applying for citizenship.
It wasn’t until he got sick this summer that his lack of birth certificate was ever an issue.
In July, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, the same illness that claimed his brother’s life two years ago. Xanamane and his significant other, U.S.-born citizen Marilyn Cheng, were married in a Buddhist temple in 1997. They have called each other “husband” and “wife” for two decades, have four children and assumed they probably had a common-law marriage at the very least.
They didn’t; Louisiana doesn’t recognize common-law marriage.
Out of options, and with Xanamane’s access to medical care hanging in the balance, the couple opted for a last-minute destination wedding in a more enlightened state: Alabama.
It’s not clear whether the champions of the Louisiana law intended to make marriage less accessible to people like Xanamane, or if they’re merely indifferent to an unintended consequence of their anti-immigrant reflexes. All we know is that they claim to be a voice for “traditional families” — a category that, in 2016, apparently no longer includes immigrants.