Texas, Facing a Lawsuit, Makes It Easier for U.S.-Born Children of Immigrants to Get Birth Certificates

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2016

Last year, a group of Central American and Mexican immigrant parents sued Texas in federal court, claiming that the state had denied their children birth certificates and access to vital services.

Now, Texas officials have agreed to expand the list of documents that allow immigrant parents who entered the country illegally to obtain birth certificates for their U.S.-born children. The parents’ lawsuit has now been stayed pending enforcement of the new policy during the next nine months.

“It is a victory absolutely for all of the U.S. citizen children who are born here in Texas to undocumented parents. I think they are going to get all their benefits to which they are entitled,” said lead attorney Jennifer Harbury of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc., which represented the children. “We have a great deal of work to do in the transition state. But I think in the end, we’re going to get a better system out of it.”

The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship for children born on U.S. soil, but Texas authorities added significant barriers in recent years to undocumented immigrants seeking birth certificates for U.S.-born children.

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“Without birth certificates, our clients lived in constant fear of having their families torn apart and their American-born children deported. They also struggled to get access to basic education, health and child-care services,” said Efrén Olivares, regional legal director of Texas Civil Rights Project’s south Texas office, which represented the parents. “This settlement will be life-changing for immigrant communities across the state.”

The stricter guidelines came as the state saw an influx during the last two years of Central American migrant family members into the Rio Grande Valley–34,289 since October–and President Obama attempted to expand executive action immigration programs ultimately blocked by the U.S. Supreme court last month.

According to state policy, registrars could not accept consular identification cards, popularly known as matriculas, issued to foreign nationals. Many immigrant parents in the country illegally did not bring identification issued in their home countries, lost them or had them stolen when they migrated, and could not return home to get them.

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Under the agreement, Texas registrars still will not accept matriculas, Harbury said. But they must accept two supporting documents and a form of secondary identification from immigrant parents, such as a Mexican voter registration card or Salvadoran national identification.

More than two dozen new qualifying supporting documents include a recent utility bill with current address; school transcript; auto insurance card; lease; hunting license; marriage license; cellphone bill; or library card.

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