The Los Angeles couple’s Supreme Court case sheds light on immigrant visa denials

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles couple’s Supreme Court case sheds light on immigrant visa denials

Immigration and the border, homepage news

Andrea Castillo

March 29, 2024

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in the case of a Los Angeles man who was denied a green card after marrying a U.S. citizen, in part because of his tattoos.

Ahead of that hearing, a dozen other U.S. citizens filed affidavits Thursday describing how their lives were similarly destroyed by consular visa denials. Advocates believe thousands of families could find themselves in similar situations.

Luis Acensio Cordero was denied a visa to return to the US from El Salvador and has been separated from his wife, Sandra Muoz, since 2015. The couple filed a lawsuit, arguing that the federal government violated their constitutional rights to marriage and due process by denying Acensio’s right. visa without timely explanation.

Lawyers for the Biden administration have argued that Muoz’s right to marriage has not been violated because she and Acensio could live outside the US.

The Supreme Court will consider whether denying a visa to the spouse of a non-citizen U.S. citizen constitutes “an interference with a constitutionally protected interest of the citizen,” and, if so, whether notifying a visa applicant that he or she is considered inadmissible is sufficient as a fair trial.

If the court sides with Muoz, other families could be entitled to some explanation as to why they were denied a visa.

Her lawyers fear that if the court sides with the Biden administration, former President Trump, if re-elected, will use the authority to again justify a blanket ban on people from certain countries.

Members of Congress, former Department of Homeland Security officials and former consular officials were among dozens of parties who filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Muoz and Acensio and calling on the court to uphold basic due process protections to enforce.

“The vast majority of visa decisions involve the exercise of individual consular officers, who often have wide discretionary powers and reflect their own personal opinions and biases, within the framework of the statute or regulations they implement,” wrote eight former consular officials, including David Strashnoy, who served in Mexico and Russia from 2006 to 2015. “While most consular officials exercise discretion, consular officials’ decisions to deny visas are sometimes arbitrary and capricious, based on misinformation or misunderstandings, or based on stereotypes.”

“Some judicial oversight is therefore necessary, at least if a visa denial jeopardizes the fundamental interests of Americans,” they wrote.

Thirty-five House Democrats, led by Rep. Linda T. Snchez (D-Whittier), argued that advocating for a core function of Congress on behalf of their constituents is impossible when agencies refuse to provide information about why a visa application has been rejected.

Years ago, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) requested but did not receive detailed justifications from the State Department about Acensio’s denial, “leaving the Representative unable to serve her constituents,” the letter said. After the couple filed a lawsuit, they learned that the federal government believed he was an MS-13 gang member, based in part on a review of his tattoos.

The nonprofits International Refugee Assistance Project and American Families United collected the stories of other families in similar situations and summarized them in a brief letter submitted to the court Thursday.

The cases include others who were denied visas after consular officials questioned the meaning of their tattoos; couples that


forced to live abroad

Outside the US

in countries that the US considers dangerous; and immigrant spouses who chose to enter the U.S. illegally to reunite with their families and now fear deportation. One man who was denied a visa was later targeted by gangs and police in El Salvador, fled to the US and was released on bail while he sought asylum.

The families included in the brief “were eager for the Supreme Court to have the information in front of them so they could understand it wasn’t just about the Muoz family,” said Melissa Keaney, an attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project.

“Not only are they having these visa denials, but they have no real idea why,” she said. “They just have to guess and that adds to the frustration and trauma they’ve experienced because of the denial.”

One example is Ms. F, an American citizen who fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with her family as a child and grew up in California. She met her husband, Mr. R, while visiting family in Afghanistan in 2010. The couple were identified in court documents by their first initials to protect their privacy.

Because her husband could not obtain a visa, she visited him over the years and returned to the US to bear their children. Ms F was in Afghanistan when the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Her family was evacuated but held at a US military base in Kosovo for almost a year before her husband’s visa was denied without explanation on security grounds.

Another couple mentioned in the court letter was

The court brief also listed Sloane Arias of Los Angeles and her husband,

Otto, Otto Sandoval-Gonzalez,

who was born in El Salvador. Just like Muoz and Acensio, the couple


went to El Salvador for that

Sandoval-Gonzalez by Otto

consular interview and he was questioned extensively about whether he had ties to a gang. He was denied a US visa without further explanation for security reasons.



returned to the US without her husband, moved in with her parents due to resulting financial strains and


only sees him occasionally, when she can save enough money and take time off work. She now suffers from depression and worry: she will never be able to start a family.


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