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Contact NIJC Communications Director Tara Tidwell Cullen at (312) 833-2967 or by email.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case of Sandra Munoz, a celebrated California civil rights attorney who has been kept separated from her husband for more than eight years since a U.S. consular officer denied his visa, purportedly due to false assumptions about his tattoos.

Mrs. Munoz and her husband Luis Ernesto Asencio Cordero have been apart since 2015, when an officer at the U.S. consulate in El Salvador denied his application for an immigrant visa with no explanation. The couple has spent the past eight years challenging the denial in federal court, learning only through litigation that the Department of Homeland Security’s visa denial decision was grounded in discriminatory allegations that Mr. Asencio’s tattoos indicated he was a gang member. Despite prevailing last year before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Circuit, the couple remain apart due to the Biden administration’s decision to appeal their case, U.S. v. Munoz, to the Supreme Court.

“The U.S. government has kept Luis and me separated across borders without ever providing us a direct or clear explanation for why he should not be allowed to return to our home in Los Angeles,” said Mrs. Munoz, a former president of the Latina Lawyers Bar Association and recipient of the California Lawyer Attorney of the Year Award in 2016. “As a result, I’ve endured personal medical crises, the deaths of my mother and my sister, and all of the day-to-day highs and lows that are part of daily life, without my love and greatest source of support by my side. I’m ashamed that my country continues to insist we do not have a right to build a life here together, especially based on the racist thinking that a Latino man with tattoos representing his pastime activities and La Virgen de Guadalupe is somehow a threat.”

Mrs. Munoz is represented by Eric Lee of Diamante Law Group APLC; Charles Roth of the National Immigrant Justice Center; and Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley Law School.

“The Biden administration asks the Supreme Court to rule that immigration authorities at a consulate can separate families and deny green cards for no reason, and that even U.S. citizen spouses cannot sue to challenge those denials,” said Mr. Lee. “Given the growing attacks on democracy in America, it is bankrupt and dangerous for the Biden administration to insist on stripping the rights of citizens and the courts to keep the executive branch in check.”
“It is absurd that the U.S. government seems to believe that U.S. citizens lack any interest in immigration agency decisions involving their spouses,” said Mr. Roth. “It is appalling that the current administration has insisted on keeping our clients’ family separated based on the ridiculous assumption that having tattoos somehow marks you as a dangerous person or that anyone who has a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a gang member. That thinking would have been wrong 50 years ago; today, when half the young people in this country get tattoos, it’s just ludicrous.”