Judge Lets Texas Deny Birth Certificates to U.S.-Born Children of Immigrants

A federal judge ruled Friday that Texas officials can continue to deny U.S. birth certificates to the children of immigrants who cannot supply required identification because they entered the country illegally.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

A federal judge ruled Friday that Texas officials can continue to deny U.S. birth certificates to the children of immigrants who cannot supply required identification because they entered the country illegally.

Though children born in the United States are entitled by law to U.S. citizenship regardless of the immigration status of their parents, Texas authorities have been placing significant barriers to immigrants who have entered the country illegally and are seeking birth certificates for their U.S.-born children.

In his ruling denying an emergency order sought by families, Judge Robert L. Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio said Texas officials can refuse to accept "matricula consular" cards, issued by Mexican Consulates, as a form of identification to obtain birth certificates for U.S.-born children.

"While the Court is very troubled at the prospect of Texas-born children, and their parents, being denied issuance of a birth certificate," Pitman wrote, "Texas has a clear interest in protecting access to that document."

Although Pitman noted the families' attorneys had "provided evidence which raises grave concerns regarding the treatment of citizen children born to immigrant parents," he said the court needed more evidence before issuing the emergency injunction they had sought.

The case comes at a time when birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants, enshrined in the Constitution, has been challenged by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other conservatives.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling as "an important first step in ensuring the integrity of birth certificates and personal identity information."

"Before issuing any official documents, it's important for the state to have a way to accurately verify people are who they say they are through reliable identification mechanisms," Paxton said in a statement.

Paxton vowed to continue defending the state's "policy on safeguarding Texans' most sensitive information and vital documents."

More than two dozen immigrant parents in South Texas sued the state this year on behalf of 32 children they claim had been denied birth certificates and access to vital services.

The lead attorney for the children, Jennifer Harbury of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc., said their families understood the judge's decision but worry about the safety of their children in the interim.

"Without their birth certificates, they are having difficulty gaining access to basic services, including school and medical care," Harbury said Friday.

"Texas must allow a clear path for all children born in this country to gain access to birth certificates and their full rights as citizens. It may not establish an obstacle course for these children alone."

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times


Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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