Since 2016 Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump released his immigration policy plan to end granting citizenship to U.S.-citizen children born to undocumented immigrants, other GOP candidates have become remarkably supportive of this hard-line stance. Many scholars point out that it’s unclear how this policy would work in practice. It would likely take an act of Congress or a constitutional amendment to overrule the current birthright citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment, it would be incredibly expensive to implement, and the number of babies being born to undocumented parents is already on the decline.
Nonetheless, GOP candidates eager to end birthright citizenship need look no further than Texas, where local country registrars have started to make that situation a reality for hundreds of immigrant parents living along the border.
In the Lone Star state, undocumented immigrants say they’ve been denied birth certificates for their children since 2013. Without that official document, it’s difficult for them to enroll their child in other programs, like Medicaid or day care, or even get baptized.
Since many undocumented immigrants do not have legal identification documents — like a driver’s license or a green card — in the past they have been able to show two secondary forms of identification to obtain their child’s birth certificate from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). One of those documents is a Mexican matrícula consular identification card.
But Texas county registers are starting to change that. In Texas’ second-largest county, the Dallas County clerk’s office announced on its website that as of June 1, its county registrars will “no longer accept the Mexican Matrícula Consular Card as verification of identity for purchase of birth certificates or for obtaining confidential records.”
Other counties already had similar policies in place, but didn’t strictly enforce them until 2013 — when Dee Porter, then chief operating officer of DSHS, told Rosalba Ojeda, the former consul general of Mexico in Austin, that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency wouldn’t accept the matrícula identification as a valid form of identification.
Texas officials stated that consulate offices don’t verify the documents used to obtain matrícula identification. They said that immigrants can use other types of identification, like student IDs, Medicaid cards, Mexican voter registrations, utility bills, and paycheck stubs, to obtain birth certificates. They insisted that they’re making sure that birth records are released “to people who are qualified to obtain them,” Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which oversees the state’s Vital Statistics Unit, told the New York Times.
But not everyone living in Texas has access to those documents. Juana, a 33-year-old Mexican immigrant mother, told the Los Angeles Times that she doesn’t have a Mexican electoral card because she left her hometown at a young age. She also doesn’t have a Mexican passport with a U.S. visa.
Neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor the U.S. Department of Justice accept the matrículaas a “reliable form of identification,” the Texas Tribune reported. However, as Huffington Post’s Elise Foley reported earlier this month, many states do.
Twenty-two states would “either certainly either certainly or likely accept consular IDs as a form of identification, according to their websites, staffers or the Mexican consulate. Some of those states require an individual to show a second form of ID along with the consular card; others allow it as a primary form,” Foley reported. In Arizona, a state that once had a famously anti-immigrant law, undocumented immigrants can receive a birth certificate with a notarized signature, “so long as they have a credible witness with an ID who can attest to their identity.”
In a state where 1.68 million undocumented immigrants live, the problems presented by Texas officials are creating big headaches.
Juana, a 33-year-old Mexican immigrant who crossed the border at the age of 14, was turned away earlier this year when she went to get a copy of her youngest daughter’s birth certificate. “I’ve been here practically half my life,” Juana told Al Jazeera America. “I pay taxes. I’ve never depended on the government.” Juana’s daughter, who was born in November 2013, still doesn’t have her birth certificate.
Other undocumented immigrants told the New York Times that they limit their travels because they’re afraid of driving north past border checkpoints set up along the interior of the United States for fear that they wouldn’t be able to provide proof that they are the parents of their children. One undocumented immigrant stated that she couldn’t work since day care centers want a birth certificate and she was unable to obtain one for her nine-month old daughter.
Both the Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid have sued the Texas Department of State Health Services on behalf of 28 adults and 32 children originally from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Lawyers for the plaintiffs believe that there are hundreds of other people who were potentially denied birth certificates but are too afraid to officially join the suit.
On October 2, attorneys for those 28 undocumented immigrants will appear before U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who will consider whether to issue an emergency injunction to order the Department of State Health Services to allow two forms of identification that the parents can use.
“Yes, I’m here illegally. But I’m the one who committed the crime, not them,” a 34-year-old woman who was denied birth certificates for two of her children told the New York Times.