WESLACO, RGV – It’s not up to Texas to discriminate against immigrants and their children.
That’s the message from attorneys for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. and the Texas Civil Rights Project who have filed a civil rights case on behalf of six U.S. citizen children and their immigrant parents that alleges unconstitutional discrimination, as well as unconstitutional interference with the federal government’s authority over immigration affairs.
A lawsuit names the Texas Department of State Health Services, Vital Statistics Unit, together with its Commissioner, Kirk Cole, and Unit Chief, Geraldine Harris, as defendants, according to a complaint that was filed in the United States District Court, Western District, and Austin Division on May 26, 2015.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff children were born in Texas to immigrant parents. Their parents requested birth certificates at local vital statistics offices, and presented their citizen child’s hospital birth records and social security cards.
The parents also provided official proof of their own identities, such as passports and consular photo identification cards, commonly called Matriculas, which have been previously been accepted forms of idenfication, that have now been rejected.
“What they are saying is that if you’re undocumented but have a U.S.-born child, we are not going to give you birth certificates anymore,” said TRLA attorney Jennifer Harbury. “It would certainly seem to be vindictive from a nation against the surge of immigrants even though the women that are in our complaint have been here for many years, one of them for nearly 20 years.”
Parents lacking proof of their U.S. citizenship or legal status have been denied the birth certificates of their own children. Harbury said the issue stems from an internal memo at the state level that up until recently had not been enforced.
The rejection of parent’s Matricula identification could have come as result of the recent surge of immigrants to the Rio Grande Valley even though it’s occurring across the border region, even up to El Paso, she said.
“It was some kind of document that was circulated but was never enforced. They kept giving birth certificates with Austin’s blessing. Now, all of a sudden since the surge last summer they are being told to not give birth certificates,” Harbury said. “We are saying that immigrant rights are for the government to decide. States don’t get to decide these issues. That’s for ICE and Homeland Security.”
Attorneys said they have been attempting to receive word of a change or correction of the issue since February with no response, and inquired again in April. As of May, women were still being turned away and not being told on how to resolve the matter.
“What I’m hoping is that by filing this lawsuit, we will speed the process along and get it changed right now so we won’t have to wait for hundreds more women,” Harbury said. “The federal government at this point doesn’t need to be involved because we are claiming preemption, but we are also claiming discrimination against the children, citizens and undocumented mothers. What a court can do is issue a declaratory judgment declaring this is unconstitutional and void it.”
Spokespersons at the state level say they are unaware of the pending lawsuit. In an email, TDSHS says Texas has long required a more secure form of identification than the Matricula Consular to verify a person’s identity.
“We haven’t seen the lawsuit but Texas, like most other states, has long required a more secure form of identification than the Matricula Consular to verify a person’s identity before that person can obtain a birth certificates for a child. This is not a new requirement,” said Carrie Williams, Director of Media Relations for TDSHS, nothing that requirements to obtain a birth certificate for a family member are outlined in Title 25 of Texas Administrative Code 181.28.
“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other federal agencies do not recognize it as proper identification or consider it to be a reliable form of identification,” Williams said. “This is largely because the issuing consulate doesn’t verify or authenticate source documents.”