Illegal immigration Federal law was originally designed to help collect child support payments and is not always enforced
Lack of Social Security card keeps some immigrants from marrying TRAVIS LOLLER Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal law that requires people to supply their Social Security number when applying for a marriage license has forced thousands of couples around the country, particularly illegal immigrants, to put their wedding plans on hold.
The law has been on the books for about a decade and was intended to make it easier to collect child support payments. But in some places it has prevented even legal immigrants and some American citizens from getting married.
Some couples are traveling to other states or other counties willing to issue them marriage licenses.
Jonadad Luque, a Honduran immigrant legally in the U.S., wants to marry his girlfriend, with whom he has two children, ages 1 and 5. But the county clerk in Nashville would not issue them a license because his girlfriend is in the country illegally and does not have a Social Security number.
“I have a Social Security number, a driver’s license and permission to work,” Luque said in Spanish. “We want to get married, but we’ll have to wait until they change the law.”
John Arriola, the county clerk in Nashville, said he would like to see the law changed, but for now he has to obey it.
Federal law requires states to record the Social Security numbers of all applicants for a professional license, driver’s license, recreational license or marriage license. And Social Security numbers are not available to those who are in this country illegally or do not have permission to work.
Locally, an illegal immigrant and his fiancee were granted a marriage license in early May after taking the matter to court. Heather Buck and Jose Guadelupe Arias-Maravilla encountered no problems when they appeared at Luzerne County Register of Wills Dorothy Stankovic’s office, attorney Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union had said.
The issuance of the license followed a court order issued by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, who ruled Stankovic could not require immigrants to prove they are legally in the country as a condition of issuing a marriage license.
Caputo’s ruling granted a preliminary injunction that forbids Stankovic from imposing the condition on Arias-Maravilla or any other immigrant who applies for a marriage license. It does not resolve the case, however, as there remain outstanding questions regarding whether the policy violates due process and equal protection clauses within the U.S. Constitution.
But whether and how the law is enforced varies dramatically from state to state, and even from county to county, with some authorities interpreting the law as saying that only those people who already have Social Security numbers need to supply them.
Illegal immigrants are encountering less trouble getting married in places that have established immigrant communities. In Texas and New York City, for instance, officials ask for Social Security numbers but do not require them.
The Los Angeles County registrar’s office says it does not require any proof of residency or citizenship status. And in North Carolina, people without Social Security numbers can present an affidavit stating they are ineligible for one.
The laws are often more strict in states where large immigrant populations are a recent phenomenon. In Tennessee and Alabama, for example, some county clerks are using the law to prevent illegal immigrants from getting marriage licenses.
Immigration attorneys say the law was not designed to keep people from getting married.
“There’s a fundamental U.S. constitutional right to marry,” said Charles Baesler, an immigration lawyer in Kentucky and chairman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Southeast chapter.