Supreme Court Says U.S. Citizens Don’t Have Right to Bring Noncitizen Spouses to U.S.

supreme court says u.s. citizens don’t have right to bring noncitizen spouses to u.s.

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled Friday that U.S. citizens don’t have a fundamental right to have their noncitizen spouses admitted to the U.S.

The court, in a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, ruled against a California woman who sued the State Department and claimed her rights were violated because her Salvadoran husband’s green card application was denied without explanation.

The ruling deals a blow to Americans who want to marry foreigners. U.S. courts have already drastically limited Americans’ ability to challenge visa denials in court, but Friday’s decision further limits the grounds on which they can sue.

Writing for the majority, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said Congress is free to write immigration laws in a way that gives priority to family unification, but the Constitution doesn’t require such policies.

“This is an area in which more than family unity is at play: Other issues, including national security and foreign policy, matter too,” Barrett wrote.

The Biden administration had urged the court to rule against the couple—a move that angered some pro-immigration groups.

The case was brought by Sandra Muñoz, a U.S. citizen living in California who works as a workers’ rights attorney.

supreme court says u.s. citizens don’t have right to bring noncitizen spouses to u.s.

In 2008, she met Luis Asencio-Cordero, a Salvadoran citizen who was living without authorization in the Los Angeles area.

Muñoz and Asencio-Cordero married in 2010 and had a child together. She eventually sought a spousal visa for him, and during the final stage of that process in 2015 he was required to travel from Los Angeles to the U.S. consulate in El Salvador for an interview.

He has been stuck in El Salvador ever since. The State Department denied his application, citing a statute that allows the U.S. government to turn away applicants who could be engaged in illegal activity. The department didn’t provide an explanation for why it believed he might break the law.

Later, after years of litigation, the government disclosed that the consular officer found that Asencio-Cordero may be a gang member because of his tattoos. Asencio-Cordero submitted a declaration that he’s never been a gang member, and that his tattoos are “expressive of his intellectualism and deeply-held Catholic faith.”

Muñoz alleged the government had violated her fundamental right to live with her spouse in her country of citizenship without affording her due process.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, ruled for Muñoz in 2022, saying she “possessed a liberty interest in her husband’s visa application” and that the government therefore owed her at least an explanation for denying it.

The high court reversed that ruling.

Barrett wrote that Muñoz has no legal interest in the visa application of a third party—that is, her husband. And as a noncitizen overseas, Asencio-Cordero has no right to federal court review of the U.S. consul’s visa decision.

supreme court says u.s. citizens don’t have right to bring noncitizen spouses to u.s.

In dissent, the court’s three liberal justices said the government should be required to explain its reasoning and warned the decision could particularly harm people with limited legal and financial means, as well as same-sex couples.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the dissenters, said some same-sex couples won’t be able to live together in the U.S. and may be forced to relocate to countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage or criminalize homosexuality.

“Muñoz may be able to live in El Salvador alongside her husband or at least visit him there, but not everyone is so lucky,” Sotomayor wrote.

The State Department declined to comment.

Charles Roth, director of appellate litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, which represented Muñoz in the case, decried the decision as an attack on marriage and blamed the Biden administration for continuing to fight the case after Muñoz won at the appeals court.

“It makes a mockery of due process to say that a U.S. citizen can be separated from their spouse without any chance to have judicial review,” Roth said. “We don’t understand why the Biden administration would have wished to establish this cruel precedent.”

The ruling comes just days after President Biden created a new program essentially easing a path to permanent residency for spouses of U.S. citizens who are in the country illegally.

The circumstances from Friday’s case differ from the types of situations the Biden program would benefit. In Muñoz’s case, had her husband remained in the U.S. rather than leaving the country for a visa appointment, it is possible he could have benefited from Biden’s new policy.

Jess Bravin contributed to this article.

Write to Jan Wolfe at [email protected] and Michelle Hackman at [email protected]

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