Trump Administration Questions Border Birth Certificates
Passports being denied to citizens whose birth records are being questioned.
On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.
His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.
But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.
As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.
The immediate question is: what would be the point of this? One might answer that it is nothing more than looking into possibly fraudulent documents, and likely also counter (if one is, for some reason, interested in defending the practice) that previous administrations has done something similar.
My response to the first issue is: if there is not a way to prove the validity of the birth certificate, then the moral, compassionate, and just thing to do is to honor it. If the choice is basically making a US citizen a person without a country or honoring the reality of a life lived, then the choice is easy (and perhaps even more so for a veteran). At the heart of all of these discussions about immigrants, residents, and citizens are real people and their lives.
In a statement, the State Department said that it “has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications,” adding that “the U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.”
But cases identified by The Washington Post and interviews with immigration attorneys suggest a dramatic shift in both passport issuance and immigration enforcement.
In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.
Emphasis mine. How is this just? How is the appropriate? What is the purpose of turning people’s lives upside down like this? Would this be happening to citizens named “John Smith”? (And we know the answer to that question).
If persons who had U.S. birth certificates can have their citizenship status questioned, forget any kind of justice for those whose status is in question because of the revocation of DACA protection.
In regards to this type of policy and previous administrations:
The government alleges that from the 1950s through the 1990s, some midwives and physicians along the Texas-Mexico border provided U.S. birth certificates to babies who were actually born in Mexico. In a series of federal court cases in the 1990s, several birth attendants admitted to providing fraudulent documents.
Based on those suspicions, the State Department during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations denied passports to people who were delivered by midwives in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. The use of midwives is a long-standing tradition in the region, in part because of the cost of hospital care.
The same midwives who provided fraudulent birth certificates also delivered thousands of babies legally in the United States. It has proved nearly impossible to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate documents, all of them officially issued by the state of Texas decades ago.
A 2009 government settlement in a case litigated by the American Civil Liberties Union seemed to have mostly put an end to the passport denials. Attorneys reported that the number of denials declined during the rest of the Obama administration, and the government settled promptly when people filed complaints after being denied passports.
But under President Trump, the passport denials and revocations appear to be surging, becoming part of a broader interrogation into the citizenship of people who have lived, voted and worked in the United States for their entire lives.
“We’re seeing these kind of cases skyrocketing,” said Jennifer Correro, an attorney in Houston who is defending dozens of people who have been denied passports.
As such, “they did it in the past” is not much of an excuse. The question: why now? Given this administration’s views on the border and immigration, the answer is pretty obvious: this is discriminatory policies aimed at latinos.
Ultimately, if the State of Texas issued a birth certificate then the document should be honored unless there is clear evidence of illegality.
Consider this happening to you:
When Juan, the former soldier, received a letter from the State Department telling him it wasn’t convinced that he was a U.S. citizen, it requested a range of obscure documents — evidence of his mother’s prenatal care, his baptismal certificate, rental agreements from when he was a baby.
He managed to find some of those documents but weeks later received another denial. In a letter, the government said the information “did not establish your birth in the United States.”
“I thought to myself, you know, I’m going to have to seek legal help,” said Juan, who earns $13 an hour as a prison guard and expects to pay several thousand dollars in legal fees.
In a case last August, a 35-year-old Texas man with a U.S. passport was interrogated while crossing back into Texas from Mexico with his son at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to McAllen, Tex.
His passport was taken from him, and Customs and Border Protection agents told him to admit that he was born in Mexico, according to documents later filed in federal court. He refused and was sent to the Los Fresnos Detention Center and entered into deportation proceedings.
He was released three days later, but the government scheduled a deportation hearing for him in 2019. His passport, which had been issued in 2008, was revoked.
Attorneys say these cases, where the government’s doubts about an official birth certificate lead to immigration detention, are increasingly common. “I’ve had probably 20 people who have been sent to the detention center — U.S. citizens,” said Jaime Diez, an attorney in Brownsville.
Diez represents dozens of U.S. citizens who were denied their passports or had their passports suddenly revoked. Among them are soldiers and Border Patrol agents. In some cases, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have arrived at his clients’ homes without notice and taken passports away.
The State Department says that even though it may deny someone a passport, that does not necessarily mean that the individual will be deported. But it leaves them in a legal limbo, with one arm of the U.S. government claiming they are not an American and the prospect that immigration agents could follow up on their case.
All of this is based on a suspicion that state-issued birth certificates were based on fraudulent information provided decades ago. The government is not proving a case, it is asking a citizen to provide the proof.
This serves no purpose save to create fear and uncertainty in a specific population of the United States and to make white nationalists happy.
Over the past year, it has thrown legal permanent residents out of the military and formed a denaturalization task force that tries to identify people who might have lied on decades-old citizenship applications.
Now, the administration appears to be taking aim at a broad group of Americans along the stretch of the border where Trump has promised to build his wall, where he directed the deployment of National Guardsmen, and where the majority of cases in which children were separated from their parents during the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy occurred.
The State Department would not say how many passports it has denied to people along the border because of concerns about fraudulent birth certificates. The government has also refused to provide a list of midwives whom it considers to be suspicious.
Lawyers along the border say that it isn’t just those delivered by midwives who are being denied.
Babies delivered by Jorge Treviño, one of the regions most well-known gynecologists, are also being denied. When he died in 2015, the McAllen Monitor wrote in his obituary that Treviño had delivered 15,000 babies.
It’s unclear why babies delivered by Treviño are being targeted, and the State Department did not comment on individual birth attendants. Diez, the attorney, said the government has an affidavit from an unnamed Mexican doctor who said that Treviño’s office provided at least one fraudulent birth certificate for a child born in Mexico.
If birth certificates, the cornerstone of basic identification in the US, are to be questioned then consider:
The denials are happening at a time when Trump has been lobbying for stricter federal voter identification rules, which would presumably affect the same people who are now being denied passports — almost all of them Hispanic, living in a heavily Democratic sliver of Texas.