L.A. couple’s case sheds light on immigrant visa rejections

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in the case of a Los Angeles man who was denied a green card after marrying a U.S. citizen, in part because of his tattoos.

Ahead of that hearing, a dozen other U.S. citizens submitted statements Thursday detailing how their lives have also been devastated by consular visa denials. Lawyers believe thousands of families could find themselves in similar situations.

Luis Acensio Cordero was denied a visa to return to the United States from El Salvador and has been separated from his wife, Sandra Muñoz, since 2015. The couple filed a lawsuit, arguing that the federal government violated his right constitutional marriage and due process by denying Acensio’s right. visa without providing a timely explanation.

Biden administration lawyers argued that Muñoz’s right to marry was not violated because she and Acensio could live outside the United States.

The high court will consider whether denying a visa to a non-citizen spouse of a U.S. citizen “impinges upon a constitutionally protected interest of the citizen” and, if so, whether informing a visa applicant that It is due process that he was found inadmissible.

If the court sides with Muñoz, other families could be entitled to an explanation of why they were denied their visas.

His lawyers fear that if the court sides with the Biden administration, former President Trump, if re-elected, would use his authority to once again justify the blanket ban on people from certain countries.

Members of Congress, former Department of Homeland Security officials and former consular officials were among dozens of parties who submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Muñoz and Acensio and who called on the court to maintain fundamental due process protections.

“The overwhelming majority of visa applications involve the exercise of broad discretion by individual consular officers, reflecting their own personal opinions and biases, within the framework of the law or regulation they implement” , wrote eight former consular officers, including David Strasnoy, who served in Mexico and Russia from 2006 to 2015. “Although most consular officers exercise their discretion reasonably, consular officers’ decisions to deny visas are sometimes arbitrary and capricious, based on misinformation or misunderstandings, or based on stereotypes.

“Some judicial review is therefore necessary, at least when a visa refusal calls into question the fundamental interests of Americans,” they write.

Thirty-five Democratic lawmakers, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Linda T. Sánchez (D-Whittier), argued that defending the interests of their constituents — a core function of Congress — is impossible when agencies refuse to do so. provide information on the reasons why a visa application was refused.

Years ago, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) asked the State Department for detailed reasoning for Acensio’s refusal, but received none, “rendering the Rep. unable to help her voters,” the brief states. After the couple filed a lawsuit, they discovered that the federal government believed he was a member of the MS-13 gang, based in part on an examination of his tattoos.

Immigrant advocacy nonprofits International Refugee Assistance Project and American Families United collected the stories of other families in similar situations and summarized them in a brief submitted to the court Thursday.

These cases include others who were denied visas after consular officers questioned the meaning of their tattoos, couples who were forced to live abroad in countries the United States considers as dangerous and immigrant spouses who chose to enter the United States illegally to reunite their families and now fear. deportation. A man who was denied a visa was later targeted by gangs and police in El Salvador, fled to the United States and was released on bail while he sought asylum.

The families included in the brief “were eager for the Supreme Court to have the information so they could understand that this is not just about the Muñoz family,” said Melissa Keaney, an attorney for International Refugee Project support.

“Not only are they being denied visas, but they have no real idea why,” she said. “They just have to guess, and that really compounds the frustration and trauma they feel from the denial.”

Examples include Ms. F, a U.S. citizen who fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with her family as a child and grew up in California. She met her husband, Mr. R, while visiting extended family in Afghanistan in 2010. The couple was identified in court records by their first initials to protect their privacy.

As her husband was unable to obtain a visa, she visited him over the years and returned to the United States to give birth to their children. Ms F was in Afghanistan when the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Her family was evacuated but detained at a US military base in Kosovo for almost a year before her husband’s visa was denied for security reasons, without further explanation.

The court brief also mentioned Sloane Arias of Los Angeles and her husband, Otto Sandoval-Gonzalez, who was born in El Salvador. Like Muñoz and Acensio, the couple traveled to El Salvador for a consular interview with Sandoval-Gonzalez and he was questioned at length about whether he was affiliated with a gang. He was denied a US visa for security reasons, with no further explanation.

Arias returned to the United States without her husband, moved in with her parents due to the resulting financial difficulties, and only sees him occasionally, when she can save enough money and take time off from work. She now suffers from depression and fears she will never be able to start a family.

California Daily Newspapers

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