By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A team of attorneys is seeking nearly $400,000 in fees and costs after successfully challenging a Louisiana law that blocked foreign-born U.S. citizens from getting married if they couldn’t produce a birth certificate.
In a court filing on Sept. 26, the attorneys asked a federal judge in New Orleans to award them nearly $387,000 in fees and $11,804 in costs for their work on the case. Lawyers for the state and three parish clerks didn’t immediately respond to the request.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys represented Lafayette resident Viet Anh Vo, who sued last October after he and his U.S.-born fiancee had their application for a marriage license rejected two weeks before their wedding.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle permanently blocked the state law that prevented Vo and others from obtaining marriage licenses.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican who sponsored the 2016 law, has said it was designed deter foreigners from gaining visas and citizenship through sham marriages.
In June, lawmakers passed legislation allowing judicial waivers for marriage license applicants who can’t produce a birth certificate. But Lemelle said the new law preserved other unconstitutional provisions, such as passport and visa requirements, that apply only to foreign-born citizens.
Vo was born in an Indonesian refugee camp after his parents fled Vietnam. Neither country’s government recognized his birth. Vo has lived in Louisiana since he was 3 months old and became a U.S. citizen when he was 8.
Vo and his fiancee, Heather Pham, spent thousands of dollars and invited 350 guests to their wedding in February 2016 before their application for a marriage license was rejected last year by court clerks in Iberia, Vermilion and Lafayette parishes. The couple went ahead with the ceremony, but couldn’t make their marriage official until Lemelle ruled in their favor.
Vo was represented by attorneys from New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles. They said in the filing that their request for fees and costs is “reasonable and warranted.”
“Defendants could have avoided many of these costs and fees had they simply stipulated to the relief sought, but instead, they mounted numerous procedural challenges, wasting the time and resources of the Court and the parties, and continued to litigate the case,” Vo’s lawyers wrote.