Texas Won't Give Birth Certificates to Children of Undocumented Women

State officials have refused to give an untold number of Texas-born children birth certificates due to their parents’ immigration status, according to a lawsuit that was filed earlier this year.

More than a dozen undocumented women have sued the Department of State Health Services, saying workers at vital statistics offices in the Rio Grande Valley refused to give them birth certificates because of insufficient records proving their identity. Many of the women had used the same documents – a so-called matricula issued by their consulate or a foreign passport without a current U.S. visa – to obtain birth certificates for other children born in Texas as recently as 2012.

The lawsuit, which was reported by the Texas Observer earlier this week, claims these children are being discriminated against because of a parent’s tenuous immigration status. Without official proof of the parent-child relationship, the children have been unable to enroll in school, have had difficulty obtaining medical care and other benefits they should be eligible to receive as U.S. citizens.

By denying them birth certificates, the lawsuit alleges, the state has created a “category of second-class citizens.”

Under the state’s current policy, immigrants can use national ID cards from their home countries or some electoral ID cards to obtain a birth certificate. But many of these women fled violence in Mexico or Central America when they were minors and never got electoral IDs. As for other documentation, many are forcibly stripped of their national IDs as they make the perilous journey north.

When Katherine Johana Portillo fled violence in Guatemala with her three-year-old son, she was carrying a national ID state officials would have accepted. But coyotes smuggling her through northern Mexico demanded immigrants throw their ID cards into a field because the local cartels charged much higher crossing fees for Central Americans. “Pregnant and fearing for her safety if she disobeyed,” she tossed her ID, the lawsuit states.

She hasn’t been able to get a birth certificate for the child she delivered in a McAllen hospital last November.

It’s unclear exactly when the state started rejecting documents that were once accepted. DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen told the Press the state has rejected matriculas and foreign passports without a current visa since at least 2008, perhaps even longer. “We don’t consider it a valid ID,” he said of consulate documents. “Our concern is that it’s not secure, that it’s not valid, and that it wouldn’t stand on its own to get an ID.”

As for foreign passports without visas: “We don’t know what every passport in the world looks like, so we have no way to authenticate that.”

However the lawsuit, filed by Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, claims this is a more recent change that has created a serious, growing problem in the immigrant community. It appears state officials started rejecting these documents a few years ago, but the policy was only sporadically enforced until 2013 or 2014. According to the lawsuit, vital statistics offices have turned away women who used the exact same documents to obtain birth certificates for their older Texas-born children.

One mother, who delivered a daughter at a McAllen hospital this past March, asked workers at the local vital statistics office why birth certificates had become so difficult to obtain. The worker “responded that since 2014-2015 the requirements had become stricter to prevent undocumented persons from obtaining status through their U.S. citizen children,” the lawsuit alleges. When another undocumented woman tried to get a birth certificate for her son, the state worker “threatened to report her to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

The women’s lawyers say state officials are well aware of the growing problem, but have “failed and refused to correct the situation.” When we asked Van Deusen with DSHS why women have been denied birth certificates using the exact same documents the state has accepted in recent years, he said, “without knowing more about their specific cases, that’s not something I can address really.”

If it’s truly a matter of authenticating foreign documents, has the state tried to work with foreign consulates to determine the validity of matriculas or foreign passports? “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for you on that,” Van Deusen told us.

Lawyers for the women say the new regulations and policy changes leave “a very large percentage of the undocumented community” without a way to obtain a birth certificate for their U.S. citizen children. “As a result of this situation, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of parents from Mexico and Central America have recently been denied birth certificates for their Texas-born children.”

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