Marriage and Immigration

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Nick Martin and Christina Prado are in love. They’ve been together several years and have a one-year old daughter Celindia, who likes to pound on her white, plastic toy drum. Martin and Prado intend to stay together. They just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to get married. The problem came when applying for a marriage license. Prado is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Martin is a U.S. citizen.

“I was born in this country. I live in this country. You know, I want to get married and to have somebody tell me that I can’t get married, you know, is kind of like a slap in the face to me.”

It’s a familiar situation to those in Hispanic communities. No social security number, no marriage license. While they are feeling the effect of the law, it originally had nothing to do with immigration…instead intended to make child support collection easier in the event of a divorce. Across the state, actual enforcement of the law varies. In some counties, there’s no enforcement. Hispanic couples often flock there to marry. In Tuscaloosa County, though, officials take a strict approach to the law, requiring a social security card. For Probate Judge Hardy McCollum it’s just a matter of following the rules.

“You know, we at the local level, we don’t make laws, we carry out the law. And uh, whether you agree with it or disagree with it.”

But McCollum’s office didn’t always take that hard line, despite the law being on the books for a decade. Two years ago, the state of Alabama ordered stepped-up enforcement. And while he doesn’t know exactly why, he believes it was one thread in the layers of 9-11 inspired security measures.

This new debate puts the Roman Catholic Church in a very difficult position. The church forbids sex outside of marriage. But immigrants may disregard church teachings if the state prevents them from marrying. Father Tom Ackerman acknowledges the state’s right to regulate marriages.

“But I also have a certain moral obligation…whatever their legal status is, they are Catholics. From a Catholic perspective according to cannon law, according to church law, they have a right to receive the sacraments.”

When Ackerman performs a wedding, he acts on behalf of the church and the state. If the church believes the marriage is legitimate while the state does not, he says that encroaches on his religious freedom.

In Pennsylvania last year, a Federal Court concluded a U.S. citizen has a fundamental right to marry. As does an undocumented alien. While that ruling doesn’t have any bearing on Alabama’s law, Nick Martin and Christina Prado hope that precedent will help them get married in the state.

“Because I want my baby, she’s…grow up in a family. In a real family.”

Their daughter was born with health problems and has already had nine surgeries. And Prado faces a risk of deportation. Complicating factors in a situation sparked by want of a number and an official piece of paper.


Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager