Parents in Texas who lack a U.S. driver’s license, visa or Mexican voter registration card are being denied birth certificates for their U.S.-born children, according to a lawsuit filed in the Lone Star State.
Immigration advocates say that since 2013, hundreds of immigrants who live along the Texas border and cannot get official U.S. identification – typically because they’re undocumented – have had a tough time obtaining birth certificates for their U.S.-born children, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A lawsuit filed challenging the tightened process contends that Texas authorities have made securing a birth certificate harder in response to an Obama administration program established in 2012 that offers a reprieve from deportation to immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors and meet a strict set of criteria.
Last year, President Barack Obama issued executive orders which would expand the deportation relief – for three years – to a broader category of young undocumented immigrants and to the undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
"As a result of this situation, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of parents from Mexico and Central America have recently been denied birth certificates for their Texas-born children," said the suit, according to the Times.
Texas officials defend their stricter rules for issuing birth certificates.
"We monitor local registrars for compliance. If we encounter a local registrar that is accepting identification that doesn't qualify, we'll let them know," said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Department of State Health Services, according to the Times.
Immigrant advocates say a major source of tighter rules is a state policy that officials began to enforce more strictly in 2013 that prohibits registrars from accepting identification cards issued by consulates that typically are called “matriculas."
"It says we need a U.S. license we don't have; a [Mexican] passport we have, but with a visa we don't have; voter ID card I have, but it expired," said Hiram Ramirez, who encountered obstacles when she tried to get a birth certificate for her newborn daughter, Dulce.
The native of Mexico said she has no problem getting birth certificates for two other daughters who were born in the United States.
"It's not fair,” Ramirez said. “She has a right to her birth certificate. What are we supposed to do?"
Children born on U.S. soil get automatic U.S. citizenship, as required by the 14th Amendment.
The lawsuit challenging Texas’s stringent process for birth certificates was filed in May and includes 19 parents of 23 children who could not get a birth certificate. They claim Texas’s procedures are unconstitutional and discriminatory because their children have a right to a U.S. birth certificate.
"As immigration became more controversial, they just started clamping down," said lead attorney Jennifer Harbury of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to the Times.
Texas State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Democrat, said the policy is putting American-born children at a disadvantage and making it hard for them eventually to obtain healthcare, enroll in school and access benefits that they’d have a right to through their U.S. citizenship.
"These children were born in the United States, are United States citizens and are entitled to receive their own birth certificates," he said in a statement that was quoted in the Times.
Some advocates are concerned that the refusal to accept matriculas could be broadened, shutting many immigrants out of services that now are available to them.
"It would be disastrous,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, to the Times. “The banks, organizations, even the [Department of Motor Vehicles] use those matriculas now. It's become an integral part of doing business with immigrants, both documented and undocumented."
Birth certificates to children of undocumented immigrants have been a target in places outside of Texas, as well.
In Arizona, lawmakers unsuccessfully have sought to deny birth certificates, or issue restricted ones, to children of undocumented immigrants.
In the Texas town of McAllen, City Secretary Annette Villarreal said that she just following the rules.
"Until a few years ago we would accept the matricula consular, but the state came down on us," Villarreal said, and "re-emphasized that we should not use the matriculas" because "they're not verifiable."
Villarreal said there are other ways – such as through a relative who is legally in the United States – that people who have encountered obstacles can secure a birth certificate for a child.
"They can always call their hometown to send them valid forms of identification," she said.
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