SCRANTON, PA -- The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a West Hazleton couple who have been denied a marriage license because of a policy instituted by Dorothy Stankovic, the Register of Wills for Luzerne County. Heather Buck and Jose Arias-Maravilla's marriage application was rejected because Ms. Stankovic's office will not issue a marriage license to any non-citizen who cannot provide a current visa or green card. Although Ms. Buck is a U.S. citizen, Mr. Arias does not have a current visa.
"This policy is blatantly unconstitutional and extraordinarily cruel. It is also profoundly anti-family," stated John Grogan of Langer & Grogan, P.C., lead counsel for Ms. Buck and Mr. Arias and cooperating counsel with the ACLU.
The couple attempted to obtain a marriage license Monday at the Register of Wills Office in Wilkes-Barre. They presented their birth certificates, photo identification and Mr. Arias's passport and immigration papers, but were told their application would not be accepted because Mr. Arias could not prove his lawful presence in the United States.
The couple was provided with a copy of Stankovic's policy, which directs employees of the Register of Wills 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 asserts in its lawsuit that this policy violates the couple's fundamental right to marry under the U.S. 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, 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."
The couple, who have a four-month old son, wish to get married before Mr. Arias is required to return to Mexico in mid-May. He was taken into custody in January 2007 for immigration violations. At his March 6 hearing, he was granted 60 days to arrange his personal affairs before leaving the country. The marriage will not prevent the deportation from going forward, but the couple wishes to marry in their church in West Hazleton.
"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 Seth Kreimer, Witold "Vic" Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer Chang of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.