The Supreme Court rules against California woman whose husband was denied entry to US

Visitors pose for photographs outside the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday ruled against a California woman who said her rights were violated after federal officials refused to allow her husband into the country, in part, because of the way his tattoos were interpreted.

The 6-3 decision along ideological lines found that citizens don't necessarily have the right to participate in federal government decisions about whether immigrant spouse s can legally live in the U.S.

“While Congress has made it easier for spouses to immigrate, it has never made spousal immigration a matter of right,” said Justice Amy Coney Barrett, reading from the bench the majority opinion joined by her fellow conservatives.

While a citizen “certainly has a fundamental right to marriage” Barrett said, “it is a fallacy to leap from that premise to the conclusion that United States citizens have a fundamental right that can limit how Congress exercises the nation’s sovereign power to admit or exclude foreigners.”

In a dissent joined by her liberal colleagues, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that denying citizens the right to seek specific reasons about why their spouses are denied entry, “gravely undervalues the right to marriage in the immigration context.”

The majority ruled against Los Angeles civil rights attorney Sandra Muñoz, who was last able to live with her Salvadoran husband nearly 10 years ago.

The couple started the process of getting an immigrant visa after they married in 2010. Luis Asencio-Cordero, who had been living in the U.S. without legal status, had to travel to the consulate in San Salvador to complete the process.

But once there, the consular officer denied his application and cited a law denying entry to people who could participate in unlawful activity.

The State Department would not give a more specific reason, but after filing a lawsuit they learned the refusal was based, in part, on a consular officer's determination that his tattoos likely meant he was associated with the gang MS-13.

Asencio-Cordero has denied any association with any gang and has no criminal history. The tattoos, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, theatrical masks and a profile of psychologist Sigmund Freud, instead expressed his intellectual interests and Catholic faith, his lawyers said in court papers.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Muñoz and ordered the State Department to share the reason and reconsider the visa application.

That ruling was tossed out by the Supreme Court after the State Department appealed.


The Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein contributed to this report.