February 17, 2015
By Chris Punongbayan, Executive Director
*This article originially appeared on the Huffington Post on February 14, 2015.
Valentine’s Day takes on a special meaning at the Supreme Court this year. The first case on the docket delves straight into the matter of love and rights. Specifically, the Court is asked whether a U.S. citizen can be denied the ability to live here with her spouse without the government providing a reason.
The woman appearing before the court is Fauzia Din, a U.S. citizen and in-home caregiver living in Fremont, California. In 1998, after the Taliban came to power, Fauzia and her mother and sister fled Afghanistan and came to the U.S. as refugees.
In 2006, Fauzia returned to Afghanistan to marry her fiancé, a son of long-time family friends. She filed paperwork for him to join her in the U.S. Three years passed before she received an answer. When the response finally came, the only explanation given was that the visa had been denied for unspecified national security reasons. She was told that no other information would be provided.
The couple was befuddled. Fauzia’s husband had never taken part in political activities much less anything that could be remotely construed as a threat to national security. He had spent the Taliban period working as a clerk at one of the few secular schools in Kabul that served children orphaned by the war. During her nine-year struggle to secure her husband’s visa, dozens of family members, friends, and coworkers have come forward to vouch for him.
Stuck in a Kafkaesque world of absurdity, she filed a lawsuit, arguing that as a U.S. citizen, her constitutional right to marry meant that at a minimum, the government needed to explain why they wouldn’t let her live with her husband.
In 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fauzia’s favor, but the government subsequently appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. The government argues that Fauzia’s desire to live in the US with her husband and elderly mother, as opposed to Afghanistan (the country she fled as a refugee), is merely a personal preference. For nearly a decade, Fauzia has been forced to split her life between two time zones – with her family in Fremont, and twelve hours away with her husband in Kabul.
Once again, Fauzia will be spending this Valentine’s Day alone. But this year, she’ll be preparing to travel to the Supreme Court to fight for her marriage, like Mildred Loving who fought for interracial marriage and Edith Windsor who fought for marriage equality before her. As I reflect on the love and affection that I’m able to share with my family every day, I remember the millions of immigrants who are separated from their loved ones today due to deportation and exclusion.
The time has come to recognize that the love shared by immigrant families is no less sacred.