By Andrea Zelinski

Texas has agreed to expand the types of documents parents can present to secure their children's birth certificates, loosening the state's grip on birth certificates for U.S.-born children of immigrants who are not in the country legally.

Civil rights groups and immigration attorneys are giving Texas nine months to prove it will accept various forms of identification from immigrants seeking their children's birth certificates.

The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by immigrants who complained that Texas officials stopped accepting their foreign-issued identification cards in 2013, effectively withholding proof of citizenship from their U.S.-born children.

"It's very crucial for a very large population of citizen children who were about to be treated as a subcategory or as a group of second-class citizens. Thankfully, they will now be allowed to be first-class citizens, which is what it must be. They're born here," said Jennifer Harbury,an attorney at the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc., who represented the child plaintiffs.

Under the agreement, Texas now will accept common identification available to undocumented immigrants, including a Mexican voter registration card available through Mexican consulate offices in Texas, as well as identification issued by consulates for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The state also will accept additional secondary documents, such as religious and medical records, official immigration documents and some expired identifications.

Immigrant parents filed a 37-page lawsuit last July alleging the department abruptly refused to honor their foreign-issued government ID cards, namely the matricula consular photo ID issued to Mexican nationals living in the United States by that country's consulates, when applying for birth certificates for their Texas-born children.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to all people born in the United States.

"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 childcare services," said Efrén Olivares, regional legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project's South Texas office and counsel for the plaintiff parents. "This settlement will be life-changing for immigrant communities across the state."

State officials have argued its goal is to maintain the security of birth certificate records.

"The purpose of the identification requirement is to ensure that individuals requesting birth certificates are who they say they are," read a statement from Department of State Health Services.

The settlement, which was agreed to Friday, was borne out of court-ordered mediation earlier this month.

The attorney general's office, which agreed to the settlement, declined to comment.

The Department of State Health Services has nine months to fully implement the agreed-upon changes, according to the settlement. The state is required to periodically check in with the court on its progress. If the state fails to comply or hit agreed deadlines, the parties can ask the state to resume the lawsuit.

"It will just take a while to see if everything is falling into place properly or if there is still problems. We didn't want to say the first week, 'Yes, everything's perfect now,'" Harbury said.

Several elected officials celebrated the settlement Monday, saying families struggled to get their child access to medical benefits and school because they lacked a birth certificate, and further worried what would happen if they were deported and their American-born child had no proof of U.S. citizenship.

"Their families no longer have to live in constant fear of having their children denied services or even worse consequences," said Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Houston, who chairs the Legislature's Hispanic Caucus.

(c)2016 the Houston Chronicle