Louisiana had an excellent idea about immigration/marriage fraud: Let's not let anyone who is an illegal alien get a legal marriage in our state. If they can't get married at all, they can't get married fraudulently.
To that end it passed a law requiring would-be foreign-born brides and grooms to show parish (county) officials that they held an unexpired visa and a birth certificate.
It was the "and" that got the state and this law in trouble.
But before we get to that, let's look at the legislature's motivation. It wanted to do something the feds could do, but won't, which is to crack down on phony marriages between aliens and citizens, with the aliens wanting nothing but the green card, and the citizens either duped by (usually younger, more attractive) aliens or bribed by them. There are, of course, legitimate marriages between aliens and citizens.
Setting aside the bribery cases (a genuine problem, but a different one), every year thousands of U.S. citizens (and some green card holders) are lured into duplicitous marriages with illegal aliens. Once the marriage is in place, usually after the unperceptive citizen has filed papers with the feds to make the alien a legal immigrant, the alien turns around, accuses the citizen of abuse, and then "self-petitions" for legal status, and usually gets it, with the citizen not being allowed to testify or even to be informed about what has happened. The Center has just published a report on these practices.
With this very real problem presumably in mind, the Louisiana legislature last year passed legislation requiring the documents that must be shown before a marriage license is issued. It stumbled, however, as it wrote the law and now an out-of-town critic — the Washington Post's normally perceptive Catherine Rampell — has lambasted the new law in a column headed "Louisiana isn't letting immigrants get married".
Rampell trotted out several cases when perfectly legitimate marriages between refugees were stalled by the birth certificate requirement. In rural parts of the Third World, whence come so many of our migrants, such exotic pieces of paper are often not available. The writer seems alert to that variable, but completely unaware of the extensive use of crooked marriages to secure immigration benefits.
The controversy was needlessly created when the legislators demanded both birth certificates and immigration documents from the foreign-born. Legally present aliens almost always have immigration documentation, but may or may not have the birth documents. Requiring birth certificates of those claiming to be native-born prevents illegal aliens claiming a status they do not deserve. But demanding the same document from aliens is totally unnecessary.
Further, an earlier law that allowed judges to overrule parish clerks on the lack of documentation was dropped so that there can be now no licenses issued to low-income rural Americans who lack the needed papers. That created more challenges for the legislation.
Rampell argues, without providing a citation, that a federal court has ruled that marriage licenses cannot be denied because of immigration status; if so the state needs to tailor its approach to the specifics of that decision and to push those who do not like the anti-marriage fraud law to take the matter into federal courts. The legislature should also drop the birth certificate requirement for the foreign-born and bring back the judges in an appellate role.
The general idea of a state making rules that cause inconveniences to illegal immigrants, worked out in some detail by Arizona in recent years, is good public policy given the lack of enforcement at the federal level.
Is it not a bit cheeky for people who break our laws to ask for such government-provided benefits as marriage licenses, driver's licenses, and financial breaks when attending state colleges and universities? I think so.