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Immigrants Sue Texas For Denying Birth Certificates To U.S.-Born Children


The 14th Amendment guarantees the right of citizenship for any child born on U.S. soil, regardless of her parents' legal standing. But Texas is refusing to issue birth certificates to some children born in the United States. Hundreds of immigrant families are being denied birth certificates because Texas no longer accepts the parents' photo IDs. And, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, undocumented immigrants are now suing.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Juana, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, came to this country without papers when she was 10. For nearly two decades, she's made her living in the fields picking crops. We're only using Juana's first name because she fears deportation. When she went to get her daughter's birth certificate, Juana brought the paperwork from the hospital where her daughter was born and two photo IDs of herself - her passport and her Mexican consulate ID card. But the Texas registrar said, no dice.

JUANA: (Through interpreter) The woman told me to look at that piece of paper posted on the wall and what's listed there are the requirements of what you need to show.

GOODWYN: The registrar told Juana that her passport ID was no good because it didn't have a current visa. In the past, it was the consulate photo ID from the Mexican government that Juana carried, which had been the gold standard of official and acceptable identification. But the registrar said, not anymore.

JUANA: (Through interpreter) My baby daughter is about to turn 2 years old, and I've taken all the IDs that I have, and they keep telling me no, that they refuse to give me the birth certificate for her.

GOODWYN: Juana's one of the 19 parents suing the state of Texas in federal district court. Immigration advocates say in the last two years, denial of birth certificates has become an issue for hundreds, if not thousands, of undocumented parents in Texas. The IDs Texas will accept, like a Mexican driver's license or a border ID card, would require that the parent return to his or her country of origin to try to obtain them. Other acceptable forms of ID, like a Texas concealed weapons carry permit, they're not eligible for. Chris Van Deusen is the spokesperson at the Texas Department of State Health Services.

CHRIS VAN DEUSEN: You know, when it comes to obtaining a birth certificate, we certainly want people to be able to get the documents that they're entitled to. However, we also have a duty to protect the personal information that's on the birth certificate.

GOODWYN: Van Deusen says the state is trying to protect the child, even if the end result is the child can't be enrolled in school or health programs without a valid birth certificate.

VAN DEUSEN: We want to see a secure form of identification so that we are not giving certified copies of birth certificates to someone who shouldn't have one, someone who's not related to a child, someone who doesn't have, you know, a reason to have that birth certificate.

GOODWYN: By no longer accepting consulate photo IDs or passports unless they have a current visa, Texas has undocumented parents in a catch-22. They can't get the IDs they need unless they leave the country, but if they do, they can't get back in. The result - hundreds of newborns and young children who are legal U.S. citizens can't prove it. As far as the state is concerned, it's not Texas's problem. Spokesman Chris Van Deusen says he's sympathetic, but...

VAN DEUSEN: I'm not in a position to provide advice at this point. If it's not their job, I wonder whose job it is.

GOODWYN: Efren Olivares is the senior attorney at the South Texas Civil Rights Project and is representing the immigrant families in their lawsuit. Olivares says Texas began to more aggressively enforce its ID restrictions during the explosion and arrival of children from Central America last summer. Then in late 2014, President Obama announced a plan that would give undocumented parents of U.S. citizens partial temporary legal status.

EFREN OLIVARES: It appears that there is an attempt to deny birth certificates to children of immigrants. Put bluntly, that is what's going on.

GOODWYN: Texas doesn't dispute that the children born in the state are U.S. citizens, but that child's access to a Texas birth certificate is another issue. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.