Legislature Approves Bill Cracking Down On 'Marriage Fraud'

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill aimed at barring illegal immigrants from getting married in Louisiana.

         A final version of the proposal by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, was approved by both the House and Senate and heads to the governor for consideration.

         "Fraudulent marriage is the number one way to get a green card," Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, said in favor of the bill during Senate debate.

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         Hodges has said the bill was requested by parish judges and clerks across the state grappling with marriage fraud.

         But opponents, including Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said the bill was an "anti-marriage" effort that is a remedy in search of a problem. Furthermore, they said there was no "epidemic of fraudulent marriage" as proponents of the measure suggest.

         "If we are going to try to use marriage as an immigration control tool, I think that's a mistake," said Appel, who was shot down in a bid to change the bill. "Why are we trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist?"

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         Hodges' proposal would bar anyone from receiving a marriage license without a birth certificate, valid international ID or passport. The bill also would require couples to attest under oath that they did not lie on their marriage paperwork. It would also require people with birth certificates in foreign languages to have them translated first.

         But the part that drew the most opposition was a provision in the bill that takes away a judge's discretion. Under current law, a judge can overrule identity requirements allowing couples without proper documentation to still get married.

         While immigrants would be the primary group impacted by the bill, it also would affect people born in the U.S. if they don't have a birth certificate, said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

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         "There are rural areas where people still sign 'X' by their name and were born at home without a birth certificate," Morrell said.

         Appel predicted the bill would lead to people cohabitating and having children out of wedlock.

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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