Trump Administration Questions Border Birth Certificates

Passports being denied to citizens whose birth records are being questioned.

Via WaPoU.S. is denying passports to Americans along the border, throwing their citizenship into question

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.

Or this:

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.

 

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. KM says:

    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.

    That’s just it – government documents ARE the proof needed. They’re not going to accept just any old thing. Meaning, they are asking citizens to provide info that normally comes verified from them. They ARE the ultimate authority in these matters so if they are claiming the records having been falsified, why in the world would they accept third party documents that could also be false? It’s wonderful circular “logic” – the government issues a contended BC but needs other proof of birth. What other proof? Why, a government-approved document of course! It has their seal of approval!

    If they couldn’t be bothered to check when it was issued, they clearly blessed it and it’s good. It should be on THEM to prove these people aren’t citizens since it was THEIR decisions to OK it. Innocent until proven guilty may only apply in the courtroom but the burden of proof should be on the government trying to strip away already granted rights. You can’t just decide it’s fraud – freaking prove it yourself or STFU.

    21
  2. teve tory says:

    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).

    Trumpers aka Republicans: Stupid people with shitty values.

    11
    1
  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    Just imagine if we had a national ID and they were also banned from working until this gets resolved year from now.

  4. James Pearce says:

    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.

    This strikes me as part and parcel of Trump’s glaring stupidity. As a semi-ignorant Foxbot, he probably thinks that all the Hispanics in Texas are either Mexicans or Democrats.

    Trump thinks a Tejano is something you get at Taco Bell.

    5
    1
  5. Lounsbury says:

    … it has a nice classical Blood and Soil kind of feel to it as an operation.

    Well I should hope that your opposition party should know how to organize motivation among the naturalized voters as it is quite one thing to have a “close the door behind you” attitude about new immigrants, quite another to feel threatened yourself in your citizenship. Quite the voter motivation.

  6. Fred Chittenden says:

    Seems this is likely the work of some rogue Swampy Deep Staters whose dark purpose is to make things ugly for the Trump administration. A lot of this work could be done by computers without a name or face on who is pushing the buttons. It has about the same deep state smell as the IRS denying conservative groups proper tax status under Obama…

    Note how no specific names are provided for the burrOcrats pushing this stuff — only the burrOcracy is named…

    It’d all very swampy… Probably should be considered Swamp News until proven otherwise. 🙂

    29
  7. Mister Bluster says:

    @Fred Chittenden:..Seems this is likely the work of some rogue Swampy Deep Staters whose dark purpose is to make things ugly for the Trump administration.

    Are you sitting up straight at attention like your Supreme Leader and Chairman of the Republican Sex Worker’s Party Kim Jong Trump has demanded of you?
    You are? Good!

    Pay attention to this!
    Your boyfriend Pud has been making things ugly for himself all by himself since he started his campaign.

    “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

    A lot of this work could be done by computers without a name or face on who is pushing the buttons.

    You would like that wouldn’t you.. so much easier for foreign hackers to interfere with our elections.

  8. Kathy says:

    Ethnic cleansing and voter suppression.

  9. Liberal Capitalist says:

    So, my question is this:

    If this is a situation (potentially questionable documentation) that can happen near the border, then…

    What about Canada?

    Would this not be the same issue? Would this not require the same attention and enforcement? Are people in Wisconsin and Maine having their passports suspended? What about Seattle / Vancouver? Detroit / Windsor?

    I’m just asking.

  10. Scott says:

    It should be on THEM to prove these people aren’t citizens since it was THEIR decisions to OK it.

    This is my first thought also. If people have official documents, then it is up to the Government to prove otherwise.

    The victims here are just as eligible now to question any Government employees as to their legitimacy. “Show me your badge, Officer. How do I know it isn’t forged? I don’t recognize your authority until you demonstrate with additional information as to your training, graduation, Leave and Earning statement and more.”

    This is what is meant by rule of men instead of rule of law.

    Devolves quickly in chaos.

  11. Gustopher says:

    Fucking Birchers, all over again.

    I typed “Birthers” but it was autocorrected to “Birchers”, and I have to defer to iOS on this one.

    14
  12. Gustopher says:

    Emphasis mine. How is this just? How is the appropriate?

    Before we can consider questions of whether something is morally just or appropriate, we have to decide whether the people are even accurately being identified.

    The government hasn’t shown their reasons for suspecting these particular people aren’t really citizens. And that’s deeply troubling.

    Aren’t conservatives supposed to fear government overreach?

    What is to stop the next Democratic administration from challenging the citizenship of every person born at home, or otherwise outside of a hospital? That would wipe a whole lot of old folks and rural folks off the voting rolls until they can get the right documentation in order (and there’s is no right documentation). We could probably save a lot with stopping all those fraudulent Social Security payments and Medicare are as well, and winnow down the number of affected people that way.

    I mean, Democrats wouldn’t do that, but with this as precedent, we could.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    This is disgraceful…that Americans would be treated this way, particularly military veterans…it’s like the new Jim Crow…and to have idiots like the one above talking about the “deep state”…this is exactly what happens when you have a racist troll like Stephen Miller in charge of immigration policy…these people are disgusting…they bring a deep ugly stain on this country in general and on the Republican Party in particular…

    I’m just asking.

    Oh come now…you know the answer to that…

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My wife is a naturalized US citizen of Hispanic heritage. How long before they question her US issued citizenship papers?

    Another question: New York is a border state with a long history of legal document shenanigans. How do we know trump’s birth certificate is legitimate? Even if he was able to provide “a range of obscure documents — evidence of his mother’s prenatal care, his baptismal certificate, rental agreements from when he was a baby”, how do we know they actually apply to him? Maybe the fetus his mother was carrying was miscarried at home and there was this male child of an immigrant mother on the street in front of trump building #666 that was on the cusp of being deported… a little money exchanges hands… and Voila!

    I think trump needs to prove the above scenario is false.

    11
  15. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I think trump needs to prove the above scenario is false.

    I think you should publicize this theory. He will retaliate by…threatening to sue you for libel then doing nothing.

    https://www.reuters.com/article/entertainment-us-usa-trump-lawsuit-idUSBRE9310PL20130402

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: I don’t dare. He has billions of $s and a dozen (well, maybe half a dozen now) bored lawyers on retainer. I have a log cabin and 12.5 wooded acres, 2 arthritic shoulders and one torn rotator cuff, 2 tendonitised, bursitised elbows, 2 arthritic hands and one broken wrist. And that’s just above the waist.

    His lawyer is gonna beat me up when djt gets home and tells him what I said.

    PS: and a wife, can’t forget her.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    At the end of the day, validating and recording live births is a state level function.

    If these people have birth certificates which were officially recorded by the state of Texas, and they do, then these people are jus soli US citizens. End of story. No matter what State thinks.

    The burden of proof here is on the federal government to establish illegitimatacy, not on these people who have sufficiently proven their status by the production of a document certified by the state of Texas. This is sanctioned harassment, and it’s infuriating.

    These people should be (and are) suing (and they’re winning).

    16
  18. @HarvardLaw92:

    This is sanctioned harassment, and it’s infuriating.

    Exactly. And it part of an infuriating pattern by this administration.

  19. R. Dave says:

    OP Wrote: “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.”

    HarvardLaw92 Wrote: “The burden of proof here is on the federal government to establish illegitimacy, not on these people who have sufficiently proven their status by the production of a document certified by the state of Texas. This is sanctioned harassment, and it’s infuriating. These people should be (and are) suing (and they’re winning).”

    Yeah, this was my first thought as well. How is this not getting immediately slapped down by a judge with an immediate motion for dismissal and/or perhaps even enjoined nationwide? The government is alleging a criminal offense and denying a documented, natural-born US citizen of his/her rights on the basis of that alleged crime. I know immigration law is almost a rights-free area (though it of course should not be), but the government can’t do an end-run around a citizen’s rights by just saying it suspects maybe he/she’s not a citizen.

  20. R. Dave says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: If this is a situation (potentially questionable documentation) that can happen near the border, then…What about Canada? Would this not be the same issue? Would this not require the same attention and enforcement? Are people in Wisconsin and Maine having their passports suspended? What about Seattle / Vancouver? Detroit / Windsor?

    I don’t disagree, but as a naturalized US citizen who emigrated here from Canada as a newborn infant with a green card, can I just say…”Shh! For crying out loud, don’t give them any ideas!”