The State Department is pushing back against a news report saying the Trump administration has ramped up efforts to deny passports to Hispanics who have U.S. citizenship but are suspected of possibly having fraudulent birth certificates.
In a statement to Fox News on Thursday, a State Department spokeswoman blasted the Washington Post over the story, saying passport denials in these cases are actually at a six-year low after peaking in 2015 during the Obama administration.
“The facts don’t back up the Washington Post’s reporting. This is an irresponsible attempt to create division and stoke fear among American citizens while attempting to inflame tensions over immigration,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman. “Under the Trump Administration, domestic passport denials for so called ‘midwife cases’ are at a 6-year low. The reporting is a political cheap shot.”
According the Post, both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations denied passports to people delivered by midwives in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. The government has long believed fraudulent U.S. birth certificates have been given to babies along the border who were actually born in Mexico.
The newspaper reported the government, though, settled a case with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009. The Post said that largely stopped the passport denials until the Trump administration took over.
The Washington Post in its story cited several examples of people who said they're being wrongly targeted as the Trump administration challenges people they believe may have fraudulent birth certificates.
The Post cited several examples, including a 40-year-old named Juan who reportedly says he was born in the United States, was delivered by a midwife in southern Texas and served in the Army, the Border Patrol and the state prison system.
“I served my country. I fought for my country,” the man said.
Juan told the newspaper he attempted to renew his U.S. passport this year but the State Department sent him a letter doubting his birth certificate is real.
The Post said Juan is one of “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of Hispanics along the border who have been accused by the Trump administration of having fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies.
But the State Department, in response, provided a chart to Fox News detailing passport denials since 2013 of people on the southern border suspected of possibly having a fraudulent birth document. According to the chart, fewer people had their passports denied in 2017 and 2018 so far, under Trump, than in the final years of the Obama administration.
The State Department had told the Washington Post they sometimes ask people suspected of having fraudulent papers to provide additional proof of birth. Those flagged are applicants who have birth certificates filed by a “midwife or other birth attendant suspected of having engaged in fraudulent activities” or those with both a U.S. and foreign birth certificate.
“Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport,” the State Department said.
The newspaper also spotlighted the case of a 35-year-old Texas man who said he was born in the United States but detained after attempting to re-enter the U.S. after a trip to Mexico in 2017.
Agents, the man said, asked him if he was born in Mexico. When he refused to say so, he was sent a detention center and entered into deportation proceedings. He was eventually released but the man said his passport was revoked.
The Washington Post story provoked an avalanche of criticism directed at the Trump administration.
“This administration’s anti-immigrant, nationalistic rhetoric and policies are now targeting U.S. citizens, in an attempt to deny them of the rights that our Constitution guarantees,” the Congressional Hispanic Caucus tweeted. “This is wrong, shameless and betrays our most sacred American ideals.”
Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement the organization is investigating and “exploring possible legal steps.”
“The Trump administration’s attempt to deny passports to long-term American residents living in border areas is just one more inhumane act in a series of unlawful actions,” Gelernt said.