David Hernandez of Harlingen may have been delivered by a midwife not far from the border with Mexico, but he always knew he was born in the United States. The trick was convincing the U.S. Department of State, which refused to issue him a passport based on a history of midwife fraud along the Texas-Mexico border.
The government was claiming that because Hernandez's midwife's name appeared on a list of midwives suspected of committing birth certificate fraud, Hernandez had to prove and document that he was in fact born in America. Yet no matter how much proof Hernandez submitted, the government still would not give Hernandez his passport. After a year of fighting, Hernandez must fight no more.
Hernandez was one of many Hispanic-Americans who filed a class-action lawsuit, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, against the U.S. State Department last year, claiming the government was unfairly burdening Hispanic-Americans delivered by midwives by making them provide an excess number of documents normally not required to get a passport. Earlier this week, it was announced that the lawsuit settled. Hernandez now his passport.
"I got it in the mail and it felt great," Hernandez tells Hair Balls. "It was a real sigh of relief. It was such a long process and it was very stressful."
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According to the ACLU, the settlement stipulates that the state department will train its staff on how to fairly weigh the evidence submitted in a passport application and how to avoid placing undue scrutiny upon Hispanic-Americans delivered by midwives along the border. From now on, passport denials will be automatically reviewed by a three-person panel of senior state department officials, and if the application is still denied, the state department has to tell the applicant the specific reasons why. In the past, the state department did not say why the application was being denied, only that the documentation being provided was not sufficient.
The state department has also agreed not to deny a passport application just because the applicant's midwife appears on the "suspicious list," which is maintained by the government. The agency will conduct regular reviews of the list to make sure no one is on the list unless there is lawful proof that the midwife's name should be included.
This issue was of growing concern for Hispanic-Americans living along the border who either commute to Mexico for work or have family living in Mexico, particularly after the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect June 1. Formulated as a post-9/11 terrorism-prevention law, it requires that all Americans traveling abroad must have a passport. In the past, a driver's license was sufficient to travel to Mexico and Canada.
"I am so happy that the case settled," says Hernandez, "because there are so many people out there in my similar situation. And it wasn't pretty. But right now, I'm happy for the first time in a long time."