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At the behest of the Solicitor General, the U.S. Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Din v. Kerry to decide whether immigrant families separated by U.S. government officials have any right to know the basis for their forced separation.

The government claims “complete discretion” over whether to allow “alien spouses (and other family members) of U.S. citizens … admission to the United States,” and sought Supreme Court review to avoid needing even to give a basic explanation for why it is excluding the spouse of a U.S. citizen from entry to the United States.

“Saying that Mrs. Din can move to another country to be with her husband harkens back to the shameful time in U.S. history when the government said that even if a state bars interracial marriage, a mixed-race couple can go get married in another state,” said Chuck Roth, director of litigation at Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). “If the government is going to separate a U.S. citizen from her husband, it should at least have to give a reason.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistical yearbook, more than 200,000 noncitizens immigrate every year through a marriage to a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 1.5 million couples residing in the United States are native-born U.S. citizens married to noncitizens; another 4.4 million couples are naturalized citizens and noncitizens. U.S. citizens may file visa petitions for their spouses. However, the approval of a spouse’s visa petition does not automatically confer the right to enter the United States. A visa must still be issued.

NIJC client Amber Ramirez of Kankakee, Illinois, and her children have been separated from her spouse Victor since October 2011, when he traveled to Juarez, Mexico, for an interview at the U.S. consulate to obtain lawful entry to the United States. A consular officer denied the visa, finding “reason to believe” that he might engage in illegal activity after entering the United States. No further explanation was given; but the consulate seemed focused on his tattoos. Victor has never been in a gang, and is not listed in Illinois’ gang database. Amber worked with the local police to explain that Victor’s tattoos did not match any known gang tattoos. The couple explained each of his tattoos, including the tattoo of the name of their daughter. The consulate refused to reconsider or to explain its reasoning, even though over 40% of American households include a member with tattoos. The family remains separated based solely on the word of an anonymous bureaucrat. This would be unreviewable under the government’s argument in Din.

“We are dismayed that the Obama administration is so determined to shield itself from accountability for decision making that separates U.S. citizens from their families, that it is taking this case to our nation’s highest court,” said NIJC Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “At a time when so many families are suffering under our broken immigration system, this is not where the president’s attention should be.”