The New Mexico branch of a church that uses hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament is suing the federal government for failing to process immigration documents for one of its religious leaders.
The complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, accuses federal officials of religious discrimination against O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal.
José Carlos Garcia, a Brazilian man who has led the church’s Florida congregation since 2013, has applied for visas that would allow him and his family to continue living in the United States while their immigration cases are pending.
But the federal agencies responsible for processing their applications have left the family in legal limbo. Some applications have been pending for two years, according to the suit.
This has prevented Garcia from traveling to religious meetings outside the United States, infringing on his religious freedom, the complaint states.
Garcia’s wife, Silva Garcia, is a civil servant for the Brazilian government who took a six-year leave to accompany her husband to the United States. She needs to return to Brazil to ensure she is able to receive her pension, according to the suit.
The complaint references a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says the federal government has discretionary power to grant or deny applications “but does not have the discretion as to whether or not to decide at all.”
The lawsuit names the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State and other federal agencies as defendants.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 ruled the federal government did not demonstrate a compelling reason why the church could not use hallucinogenic tea for religious purposes.
The church’s local members practiced informally for years before opening a temple southeast of Santa Fe in 2016 after an extended legal battle with Santa Fe County over water and other issues. The local congregation serves as the church’s North American headquarters.
The religion is practiced by 20,000 members in 11 countries, according to the suit.