Hispanics Delivered by Border Midwives Are Having Trouble Getting U.S. Passports

Post-9/11 worries target South Texas

The state's Vital Statistics unit held the hearing in May. Ramirez testified that she could not produce very much evidence more than 60 years after the fact, but did provide her baptismal certificate; her Mexico marriage record, which lists her place of birth as the United States; and U.S. tax records starting in 1971.

In the eyes of Texas, this was enough. Her birth certificate was validated.

According to state hearing officer Dan Meador's findings, "As the earlier record, the Mexican [birth certificate] is entitled to a presumption that it is the more correct record, absent other evidence. Other evidence [submitted, however]...creates a slight preponderance of the evidence that the Texas certificate is true and correct."

David Hernandez and his mother, Petra Becerra, find nothing but an empty field after returning to the site where they say Hernandez was delivered by a midwife 44 years earlier.
Chris Vogel
David Hernandez and his mother, Petra Becerra, find nothing but an empty field after returning to the site where they say Hernandez was delivered by a midwife 44 years earlier.
David Hernandez's godfather, Carlos Barrientos, witnessed Hernandez's birth, but he has Alzheimer's and can't help prove Hernandez was born in Texas.
Chris Vogel
David Hernandez's godfather, Carlos Barrientos, witnessed Hernandez's birth, but he has Alzheimer's and can't help prove Hernandez was born in Texas.

Relieved, Ramirez reapplied for her passport, confident of the results after her victory in Austin. But no. The State Department's passport division denied her again.

Ramirez hired an immigration attorney. She is now suing the State Department in Minnesota federal court to get her passport.

"I thought for sure that the passport agency would accept her after the Texas hearing, but they didn't, which is ridiculous," says Ramirez's lawyer, Sonseere Goldenberg. "For all the government's efforts to try to disprove a U.S. birth certificate, they certainly don't check into the ones in Mexico to the same extent that they do the U.S. birth certificates. I don't think anyone has a copy of it. It's just referenced in their letter and that's it."

Goldenberg is also arguing that the State Department is unlawfully questioning the validity of state-issued documents. Brodyaga agrees.

"If the state allows a midwife to sign the birth certificate," Brodyaga says, "and the state registers it and issues the parents a birth certificate, then 50 years later the State Department doesn't have the right to say, 'That's not a valid birth certificate.' It's totally retroactive hell."

Meador told the Press that he's seen a "sizable" increase in the number of birth certificate hearings he's presided over since the new travel initiative was announced. He says he can't account for why the State Department would have denied Ramirez after her birth certificate was validated.

"I can't talk about specific cases," he says. "[But] I don't know why they'd reject it."

Meador says Texas uses the 51-49 standard for evidence, the same one Ramirez and Hernandez are trying to get the State Department to use.

"It's the preponderance of whatever evidence is provided by the parties," Meador says.

Hector, who was born in Mexico, says he's optimistic about his mother's chances. But it's scary. And he wonders how her case might affect his citizenship. After all, he got his green card based on her being born in the States.

"She's been living here most of her life," he says, "paying taxes, working hard, and I feel bad. I suppose the government needs to check all the papers to make sure, but why didn't they do this or say anything when I was getting my green card based on her birth certificate? This whole thing is just so crazy."
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Wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap and clutching the leather Cowboys steering-wheel cover in his maroon Monte Carlo, David Hernandez slowly maneuvers through the side streets of San Benito looking for a Hispanic grocery called Jimmie's. Hernandez got a tip that the store owner was delivered and then adopted by Hernandez's midwife and used to help her keep her books.

Hernandez is nervous. He's followed too many leads that later turned to dust.

Inside, Hernandez talks excitedly to the cashier in Spanish. It's the right man, but he doesn't remember what happened to the paperwork after the midwife died. Another dead end.

On the drive home to Harlingen, Hernandez stops in at St. Benedict's Church, where he was baptized. A cheerful-­looking woman named Cindy Pena is manning the front desk. As Hernandez explains that he's one of the people delivered by midwives who's struggling to get a passport, Pena smiles and nods.

"More people than I can even count have been coming in to get baptismal certificates regarding passports," she says. "We used to get two or three people a week asking, but now it's every day."

She tells the story of a woman named "Gonzalez" who came into the church one day after being denied a passport. Pena says the woman said she called the State Department to ask why and was told it was because the name on her birth certificate ended in an "s," whereas it was spelled with a "z" on other documents.

"Just for one letter and they denied her passport," says Pena. "Every little thing has to match."

Suddenly, Hernandez blurts out, "Maybe that's one of the reasons I haven't gotten my passport. My birth certificate has my middle initial, 'B,' but my other records don't. I hadn't even thought about that."

"Any difference in the certificate can be a problem," says Pena.

"Would adding the 'B' to my baptismal certificate be a problem?" Hernandez asks.

"You would have to bring in your birth certificate," says Pena, "but we could do that."

"Well," says Hernandez, "this is great to know. This is something that I've never heard of because the State Department doesn't tell you anything, why you've been denied. They just send you on a wild-goose chase."

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