14 July 2007

Some Immigrants Denied Marriage Licenses

From a AP-wire story posted earlier today via CBS News, datelined Nashville, Tennessee: Link to article

"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."

Sure enough, here's Tennessee Code Annotated, sec. 36-3-104(a): "No county clerk nor deputy shall issue a license until the applicants make an application in writing, stating the names, ages, addresses, and social security numbers of both . . . parties." I'm cited to an attorney general opinion from 1998 (OAG 98-065) which may clarify the issue, but I can't get to it online.

One problem immediately arises as to the use of Social Security numbers, and it is this: Social Security numbers may not be immediately available for legitimate non-immigrant visa holders coming to the United States. For example, persons arriving on a K-1 visa (that's the fiancee visa) arrive expressly to be married to their U.S. citizen sponsors. They may not even be seeking employment (that's the usual reason for applying for a number in the first place). In fact, the Social Security Administration, on its website, states they will not issue numbers where the sole purpose is to obtain identification (for example, a driver's license) and not to procure employment.

But there's an even more serious issue. Marriage is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. [...] Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival..." Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978) (citing Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)). Being a fundamental right, if the Tennessee statute is being construed and enforced to prohibit marriages in the absence of a Social Security number, this is a matter that needs to be examined very, very closely. It's certainly something that I want to research more after the bar exam.

But for now, let me say this. It is not immediately clear that the enforced use of Social Security numbers in this instance was originally meant to uphold the immigration laws of the U.S. But even if it were, and ignoring for the moment the constitutionality issue, it is simply a poor policy choice. There are many ways to uphold and enforce immigration laws besides preventing people from entering into marriage. Let's therefore hope that saner minds in this matter will ultimately prevail. --SJR

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