Alabama Immigration Law Causing Marriage Discord

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In Alabama, there's a new battle brewing in the immigration debate. Some counties have decided to enforce a decade-old law that requires a Social Security card to get a marriage license. The Catholic Church says this has led to a surge of couples living in sin.


From Alabama, a new battleground in the immigration debate. Some counties plan to enforce a decade-old law that requires a social security card to get a marriage license.

From member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, Andrew Yeager reports.

YEAGER: Nick Martin(ph) and Cristina Prado(ph) are in love. They've been together several years and have a 1-year-old daughter Selinia(ph), who likes to pound on her plastic white toy drum.

(Soundbite of instruments playing)

YEAGER: 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.

Mr. NICK MARTIN (Resident, Alabama): I was born in this country. I live in this country. I want to get married, and to have somebody tell me that I can't get married, you know, it's kind of like a slap in the face to me.

YEAGER: It's a familiar situation to those in Hispanic communities, no social security number, no marriage license. However, actual enforcement of the law in Alabama varies. In Tuscaloosa County, 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.

Mr. HARDY McCOLLUM (Probate Judge, Tuscaloosa, Alabama): We at the local level, we don't make laws, we carry out the law. And whether you agree with it or disagree with it.

YEAGER: But McCollum's office didn't always take that hard line, despite the law being on the books for a decade. Two ears ago, the state of Alabama ordered stepped up enforcement. And while he doesn't know exactly why, he believes it was one threat 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.

Father TOM ACKERMAN (Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church): But I also have a certain moral obligation, whatever their legal status is, they are Catholics. From the Catholic perspective according to canon law, according to church law, they have a right to receive the sacraments.

YEAGER: When Ackerman performs at weddings, 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. Nick Martin and Cristina Prado hope that precedent will help them get married in Alabama.

Ms. CRISTINA PRADO: Because I want my baby - she's grow up in a family, in a real family.

YEAGER: Her 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.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Birmingham.

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