Tattoos Sank His Green Card, and SCOTUS May Step In

High court to review case of Salvadoran man who says he was wrongly pegged as gang member
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2024 12:41 PM CST
SCOTUS to Review Case of Man Whose Tattoos Helped Sink Green Card
Stock photo of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC.   (Getty Images/Bill Chizek)

For nearly a decade, a Salvadoran man has missed Christmas after Christmas in the United States with his wife—not because he doesn't want to spend it in California with her, but because he can't. Luis Asencio-Cordero has long been denied a visa from the American government, partly over what it claims are gang tattoos, in a case the US Supreme Court is reviewing to decide whether to take. The Los Angeles Times details the predicament of Asencio-Cordero and his spouse, civil rights attorney Sandra Munoz, who met in 2008 at a wedding and married two years later.

Asencio-Cordero applied for a green card in 2013, but things started to go awry in 2015, when the couple visited the US Consulate in El Salvador during a visit to wrap up his paperwork and complete one last security screening. Asencio-Cordero's tattoos—which include "comedy and tragedy theater masks with a set of dice and three Ace cards .... La Virgen de Guadalupe, a profile of Sigmund Freud, and a tribal design with a paw print," per the Times—flagged him as a possible MS-13 gang member. He also had a previous arrest under his belt, though Asencio-Cordero says that was from a fight with a friend and didn't result in charges.

Munoz returned to the US alone, and the consulate said it was shielded from having its decision second-guessed due to a concept known as consular nonreviewability, "which prevents judicial reviews of visa determinations made by consular officers as long as the decision is 'facially legitimate and bona fide,'" the Times notes. The pair sued and won a victory in October 2022 with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the US government had violated Munoz's due process by waiting three years before telling her why her husband's visa had been denied, per Reuters.

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The couple has stayed close via texting, video calls, and visits in El Salvador and elsewhere, but it's a far cry from living their lives together. Asencio-Cordero is most upset that he's missed seeing his daughter, now 17 and living in Las Vegas, grow up, and that he wasn't able to be there for his wife during her bout with long COVID; the deaths of her sister, mom, and best friend; and hospitalization for a torn tendon. "I feel helpless," the 47-year-old tells the Times. Munoz, meanwhile, can't believe his tats were a contributing factor to his green card denial. "A tattoo in and of itself doesn't mean that somebody is a bad cop, a bad person," she says. More here, including on what a Biden administration victory against the couple could mean in a possible future Trump administration. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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