AUSTIN, Texas – Parents who entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico and Central America will have an easier time getting birth certificates for their children born in Texas following a lawsuit settlement with the state, lawyers for immigration advocates said on Monday.
The deal for now ends a legal fight that erupted last year when Texas was accused of denying "birthright" U.S. citizenship amid heightened national debate over immigration. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman signed an order that sets aside the lawsuit so long as Texas lives up to the agreement.
State health officials contended the deal makes no changes to existing policies, but attorneys for families insisted otherwise, saying Texas will now accept more forms of identification and supporting documents that are easier for people in the country illegally to obtain.
Although ID cards issued by Mexican consulates still won't be accepted as many wanted, Texas will now accept valid Mexican voter ID cards that can now be obtained at consulates in the U.S., said Efrin Olivares, a lead attorney on the lawsuit for the Texas Civil Rights Project.
It is unknown how many parents were denied a birth certificate for their Texas-born children. Olivares said the deal was struck while trying to get those numbers from the state, and said the settlement talks never answered the question of why Texas began cracking down on birth records starting around 2013.
Lawyers for the families contend that prior to 2013 they were able to present ID cards from the Mexican consulates, as well as foreign passports without U.S. visas in them, and obtain birth certificates in Texas.
"That's the million-dollar question," Olivares said. "What prompted those changes, why and who, we never got a final answer."
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a statement the agreement maintains "the security of birth records."
"The purpose of the identification requirement is to ensure that individuals requesting birth certificates are who they say they are," the agency said.
Olivares said the deal allows immigrant families to go back to court if problems resurface over the next nine months.
Immigration attorneys have suggested Texas only got serious about enforcement after women and children from Central America began pouring over the border. President Barack Obama a short time later announced executive actions on immigration that sought to temporarily shield from deportation up to 4 million people in the U.S. illegally, although his plan was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The parents in the lawsuit entered the country illegally from Mexico and Central America, but the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantees the right of citizenship to children born here.