From a historical standpoint, the South has had an uneasy relationship with the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It’s easily one of — if not the most — litigated amendments. The very first clause grants citizenship to all persons born in the U.S. regardless of their parents’ status. It declares those born in the U.S. are also citizens of the states in which they are born. But Texas has been refusing to issue birth certificates to first-generation U.S. citizens since last winter. In May, four women filed civil rights lawsuits against a branch of the state’s health services department, alleging constitutional discrimination and interference in federal government immigration authority. That number has risen to 17 plaintiffs, all represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Texas Civil Rights Project. Melissa del Bosque, with the Texas Observer, wrote about the case recently.
The case isn’t about whether or not the children of undocumented immigrants were actually born in Texas or in the U.S. — it’s much more narrow than that. It comes down to discrimination and access to services, del Bosque says.
“It’s federal government that determines whether someone is a citizen or not,” she says. “[The children] are not being given the benefits of U.S. citizenship by not being allowed to obtain their birth certificates. They can’t get a passport, they can’t be enrolled in school. There’s all sorts of a myriad of problems that arrive when you can’t get your birth certificate.”
The state health services department’s Vital Statistics Unit registers the birth certificates, but del Bosque says local officials — typically a county clerk or city registrar — are responsible for issuing the documents. She says the certificate is uploaded by the hospital when the baby is born. Afterwards, the parents must go to their local county or city office and request the certificate.
In Hidalgo and Cameron counties — the main two denying birth certificates — women were turned away because they did not have sufficient proof of their identities. In Texas, if a mother does not have a Texas or U.S. ID, the law allows use of a foreign ID as proof.
“For many, many years the way we’ve dealt with that in Texas is we’ve allowed these matricula cards. Which are photo IDs that are issued by Mexican consulates in the U.S. to Mexican citizens,” Del Bosque says.
The cards, known as matricula consular or consulate identification cards, have been in use since the 1870s or so. Other legally accepted documentation, per state law, includes foreign passports. But del Bosque says women with passports but no U.S. visa are also being turned away.
So why are these forms of legal identification deemed insufficient now? del Bosque says it’s been a slow result of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“Since 9/11 states have cracked down a lot more on identification and they question the actual security of those consoler ID cards. There have been some questions about them over the years but they’ve never fully banned them from being used as a form of documentation to get a birth certificate,” she says.
Not all states accept these CID cards in part because the documents used to obtain them are not verified by these consulate offices. You can be miles away from which you claim to be your home and still get a card.
But del Bosque says some of the families participating in the lawsuit have other children born in the U.S. and did not have a problem getting documentation.
“They’ve showed the card, their hospital records, their social security cards and so forth, and were able to get a birth certificate. But suddenly now, in the last year, they’ve had a children and cannot get a birth certificate,” she says. “It seems the state has changed the rules but not really announced it publicly or discussed it with legislators. They just implemented this.”
So why is this happening? And is Texas making it an official matter that we will no longer accept these matricula consular cards? del Bosque says that’s the question everybody is asking.
“The attorneys that I’ve spoken to think is has something to do with the influx of Central American families that started coming across last summer,” she says. “With the executive actions put forth by President Obama, granting protections to undocumented students and their parents, there’s no secret here in Texas that our state challenged those executive actions in court.”