Undocumented Mothers Lose Early Decision in Texas Birth Certificates Case

Michael Righi, flickr
Written by Ethan M. Long

On October 16, a judge ruled in favor of the Texas Department of State Health Services Vital Statistics Unit in a case where a group of undocumented mothers of children born within the United States were being refused birth certificates.

According to the original complaint, filed in May, “The Defendant officials have refused, and continue to refuse, to provide the adult Plaintiffs with certified copies of the birth certificates for their Texas born children. Such refusal is de facto based upon the immigration status of the Plaintiff parents. The lack of a birth certificate, in turn, is causing serious harm, as discussed herein.”

According to the court documents filed on October 16, “Plaintiffs contend the effective bar creates numerous issues in obtaining the rights and benefits which inure citizens of the United States, including enrollment in schools and social welfare programs, as well as other services such as baptism and day care services.”

The plaintiffs argue that the actions by the defendants violate the Fourteenth Amendment and Supremacy Cause.

The Fourteenth Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” Since the Supremacy Clause makes the Constitution “the supreme law of the land,” the argument is made that Texas is, indeed, breaking the law.

However, as U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman writes in his decision, “While the Court is very troubled at the prospect of Texas-born children, and their parents, being denied issuance of a birth certificate, as the evidence presented by Plaintiffs themselves establishes, a birth certificate is a vital and important document. As such, Texas has a clear interest in protecting access to that document.”

It is because the Texas Administration Code requires the applicants to be “properly qualified” that the mothers couldn’t apply for the birth certificates. They must be able to present at least three forms of identification, which could be hard to obtain when working in the United States illegally. That’s the Catch-22 here. Texas can refuse to issue birth certificates to children born on United States soil as long as their parents are unable to obtain apt identification.

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From court documents: “At the outset, Plaintiffs presented a broad sweeping narrative which suggested an entire class of persons was being deprives, as a matter of law, from obtaining a birth certificate. As the record developed, the evidence became something of a moving target, and unfortunately less clear. Specifically, it is particularly troubling that the affidavits of the Plaintiff parents lack precision in detailing which forms of identification they, or other qualified applicants, actually possess or can reasonably obtain.”

While a Matricula Consular identification card, issued through Mexican consulates for those working in other countries, has in the past been an acceptable form of stand-alone identification, the last few years has seen a number of rejections from state registrars.

Birthright Citizenship has been a hot topic among presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Terms like “anchor baby,” used to describe American-born children of undocumented immigrants, became a brief staple of stump speeches and interviews with some of the GOP hopefuls. The unflattering and inaccurate image such rhetoric conjures — the “lazy immigrant” hellbent on soaking up all our delicious welfare and health services without contributing — is just one side of the anti-immigration coin. The other — the immigrants who are “stealing our jobs” — seems antithetical to the first. But both the job-stealer and the welfare-moocher must be stopped at the gates in the eyes of many Republican voters. The issue of immigration has come up year after year, in presidential campaigns, local and state level elections, and in schemes like wall building, border patrolling, and police choosing to act as enforcers of immigration law.

Carl Tepper, a member of the Lubbock County Republican Party, told ConchoValleyHomepage.com that “There’s a good chance that these folks might not belong here. There’s a good chance that they might need to be re-patriated to their home country where they can get the proper documentation and come back over the border if they have a legal right to be here.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, “7.5% of all births in the U.S., or 300,000 births per year, are to unauthorized immigrants.”

In his decision, Judge Pitman writes that “the arguments of Plaintiffs, while heartfelt, compelling and persuasive, are not enough without substantiating evidence to carry the burden necessary to grant relief to Plaintiffs at this early stage of proceedings.” He is aware that the case has importance going forward, and debate must go on for the issue of birthright citizenship. “The Court thus concludes that state of the record at this preliminary stage falls short of sufficiently establishing that plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claims,” he writes.

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The United States may see larger and more publicized court cases in the future, as the question of Constitutionality of the actions taken by the State of Texas drives debate. Other states, too, might take their lead after Pitman’s decision, and attempt to manipulate their state codes to further exclude undocumented immigrants.


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About the author

Ethan M. Long

Ethan Long is a journalist based out of Boston, MA.

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Undocumented Mothers Lose Early Decision in Texas Birth Certificates Case

by Ethan M. Long
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