Pennsylvania Couple Wrongfully Denied Marriage License Because of Immigration Status, ACLU Charges

April 18, 2007 12:00 am

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SCRANTON, PA – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a West Hazleton couple who were denied a marriage license because of a policy that prohibits issuance of a license to anyone who cannot prove that “they are in the country legally.”

“This policy is blatantly unconstitutional and extraordinarily cruel. It is also profoundly anti-family,” said ACLU cooperating attorney John Grogan of Langer & Grogan, P.C., who is lead counsel for the couple.

Heather Buck and Jose Arias-Maravilla, who have a four-month-old son, attempted to obtain a marriage license Monday at the Register of Wills Office in Wilkes Barre. Buck, a Pennsylvania native, presented her birth certificate and photo identification. Arias, a Mexican national, presented his passport and immigration papers. However, the register’s office informed them that their application would not be accepted because Arias could not provide a current visa or green card, even though such documents are not required by state or federal law.

Officials provided the couple with a copy of a policy by Luzerne County Register of Wills Dorothy Stankovic that directs employees to refuse a marriage license to any foreign citizen who cannot prove legal residence in the United States and to report the applicants to immigration officials. The ACLU charges in its lawsuit that this policy violates the couple’s fundamental right to marry under the United States Constitution and conflicts with federal law and policy allowing undocumented individuals to marry in the United States.

“This marriage is legal under the law of Pennsylvania and the federal immigration laws,” said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The Register of Wills is supposed to issue marriage licenses according to Pennsylvania’s marriage law, not to challenge that law or federal immigration law. Ms. Stankovic has no authority to interfere in people’s lives this way.”

Arias is required to return to Mexico in mid-May. Although the marriage will not prevent the deportation from going forward, Arias and Buck wish to marry in their church in West Hazleton before he leaves.

“Preventing someone from getting married because of immigration status is unlawful and a violation of basic human rights,” said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project.

Stankovic is sued in her individual and official capacities.

The case is Buck v. Stankovic and was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In addition to Grogan, Roper and Jadwat, attorneys in the case are Philadelphia attorney Seth Kreimer, Witold “Vic” Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer Chang of the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project.

A copy of the complaint is online at:

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