AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Lawyers for immigrant families denied birth certificates for their U.S.-born children by Texas health officials who refuse to recognize as valid certain forms of identification will argue for a federal judge to intervene against the state.
A federal judge in Austin will hear their case Friday as they seek an emergency injunction. The lawyers say harm is being done to the families and their children who need birth certificates to enroll in school and ensure parental rights.
Dozens of families and children sued the Texas Department of State Health Services after local authorities refused various foreign identifications. The state agency wants the suit dismissed.
The parents, from Mexico and Central America, aren't U.S. citizens. The Constitution guarantees the right of citizenship to their children because they were U.S-born.
The health service agency's Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, previously accepted consular identification cards and other documents issued by foreign governments, according to the lawsuit. But officials have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally status to obtain birth certificates for their children, it said. The agency says it never accepted these documents as valid, and there has been no change to the state's identification requirements.
"As a result of this situation, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of parents from Mexico and Central America have been recently denied birth certificates for their Texas-born children," according to the lawsuit filed in May.
Many Mexican immigrants receive identification cards commonly known as matriculas, which are issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States.
Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the agency has "never accepted the matricula consular as adequate identification" because the information used to get them is "not verified by the issuing party."
But the cards were rejected only occasionally until 2013, the lawsuit claims, when the policy began to be enforced "more strictly." The following summer tens of thousands of Central American migrants, many of them families, crossed the border illegally into Texas.
"Many of our clients have been here for 15 to 20 years. They have older kids for whom they were able to get birth certificates with no problem," said Efren Olivares, a senior attorney at the South Texas Civil Rights Project and one of the lawyers representing the immigrant families. Yet their newborns have been refused birth certificates using the same documents, he said.