McALLEN, RGV – State Sen. Juan Hinojosa says he is “alarmed” that the Texas Department of State Health Services is refusing to issue birth certificates to some people born in the United States.
In a letter sent July 15 to DSHS Commissioner Kirk Cole, Hinojosa pointed out that under the United States Constitution, every person born in our country is a United States citizen, regardless of whether their parents are citizens or not.
Hinojosa said that for many years a matricula consular, which is issued to Mexican nationals by the Mexican Consulate’s Office, has been used as an acceptable form of identification by parents when they apply for a birth certificate. However, Hinojosa said in his letter, DSHS recently decided matriculas are no longer accepted. He said DSHS seems to be targeting the Rio Grande Valley when enforcing this change in policy.
“It is unclear to me whether this is an intentional effort to discriminate against a large percentage of undocumented persons knowing they would be unable to produce any other acceptable foreign identification card,” Hinojosa wrote.
DSHS press officer Chris Van Deusen told the Rio Grande Guardian that Texas has never accepted the matricula consular as valid identification to obtain a copy of a birth certificate because the documents used to obtain the matricula are not verified by the issuing party.
Hinojosa’s letter comes after attorneys for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a civil rights case on behalf of six U.S. citizen children and their immigrant parents. The lawsuit alleges unconstitutional discrimination against the parents and their citizen children, as well as unconstitutional interference with the federal government’s authority over immigration affairs. (Click here to read the Rio Grande Guardian’s story on the lawsuit.)
Here is Hinojosa’s letter in full:
Dear Commissioner Cole,
I am alarmed by an article and lawsuit that surfaced this week concerning the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) refusing to issue birth certificates to persons born here in the United States. Under the United States Constitution, every person born in our country is a United States citizen, regardless of whether their parents are citizens or not.
The DSHS Vital Statistics Unit is responsible for issuing birth certificates through a network of local Vital Records offices located throughout the state. To qualify for a certified copy of a birth certificate, a person must produce acceptable personal identification. Specifically, the person must present one of the identification documents set forth in 25 Tex. Admin. Code, (T.A.C.) §l 8 l .28(i) (l 0-11). These regulations permit acceptance of a foreign government photo identification card. For many years, this has been satisfied by producing official photo identification cards, known as “matriculas,” issued by the person’s local consulate.
However, DSHS has recently decided that such matriculas are no longer accepted. It is unclear to me whether this is an intentional effort to discriminate against a large percentage of undocumented persons knowing they would be unable to produce any other acceptable foreign identification card. It appears that this “new” policy has been strictly enforced in the Rio Grande Valley since last year. However, no amendment to T.A.C. §181.28(i)(IO-l 1) foreclosing official consular photo identification has ever been stated or even publicly proposed . As a result of this policy, numerous parents have been denied birth certificates for their Texas born children.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court against the Texas Department of State Health Servics, Vital Statistics Unit, (C.A. l 5-cv-00446), 13 of the 17 plaintiffs are residents of Hidalgo County, part of my Senate District. This causes grave concerns since these DSHS practices appear to only be occurring in the Rio Grande Valley. As an example, a plaintiff in the lawsuit gave birth to a baby in a McAllen, Texas hospital. She took her hospital records, matricula, and Mexican passport to the Vital Statistics office in McAllen. She was told the matricula is no longer accepted as a form of identification. Her passport was also rejected because it does not have a U.S. visa stamp. The plaintiff had no other forms of acceptable identification and she has no way to obtain a birth certificate for her Texas born child. She was shown no written documentation that any change to T.A.C. §181.28(i)(10-11) had occurred with respect to acceptable forms of identification.
By denying these birth certificates, DSHS is denying these children their U.S. citizenship. These children were born in the United States, are United States citizens, and are entitled to receive their own birth certificates. Furthermore, this process has created a critical disadvantage for these children with respect to medical care, travel, school enrollment, and other benefits these children are entitled to on the basis of their U.S. citizenship.
I look forward to your response in hopes that we can address my serious concerns with DSHS’s current practices in issuing birth certificates to lawful United States citizens. Thank you for your time and consideration in this urgent matter.
Sincerely,Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
State Senator, District 20
Hinojosa sent copies of his letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Health & Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor, Inspector General Stuart Bowen, Jr., and the Senate Hispanic Caucus.
DSHS’s press officer Deusel said he could not respond directly to Hinojosa’s letter. He said Commissioner Cole would be responding to Hinojosa directly. Deusel did say this about his agency’s policies on birth certificate identification:
“DSHS provides certified birth certificates without regard to the requestor’s immigration status. When it comes to obtaining a copy of a birth certificate, DSHS, county clerks and local registrars are required to verify the requestor’s identity in order to protect the sensitive personal information contained on a birth certificate. The requirement that a requestor show valid identification also protects against fraud and identity theft. DSHS accepts a variety of documents to verify a requestor’s identification.
“Texas has never accepted the matricula consular as valid identification to obtain a copy of a birth certificate because the documents used to obtain the matricula are not verified by the issuing party. Several other states and federal agencies also do not accept the matricula as a valid form of identification for the same reason.”
The complaint by TRLA and TCRP was filed in the U.S. District Court, Western District, Austin Division on May 26. DSHS, Vital Statistics Unit, together with Commissioner Cole and Unit Chief Geraldine Harris are named as Defendants.
“The constitution does not permit arbitrary or vindictive discrimination against any person, let alone against children. We are a nation of immigrants. If the Statue of Liberty could speak, what would she say?” said Jennifer Harbury, of TRLA.
“Even in the darkest hours of Texas’ history of discrimination, officials never denied birth certificates to Hispanic children of immigrants. Everyone born in the United States is entitled to the full rights of citizenship. This is unconscionable,” said James Harrington, director of TRLA.
TRLA and TCRP held a news conference in Weslaco in May to announce the lawsuit. At the event were colonia community groups such as La Unión del Pueblo Entero and ARISE. Some community leaders say if DSHS does not reverse its policy on accepting a metricula consular they will ask Valley legislators to file legislation next session to allow local agencies, such as a county clerk’s office, to issue birth certificates, thus bypassing DSHS.
Editor’s Note: In the main image accompanying this story, Julieta Paredes, community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, is pictured being interviewed at a news conference in Weslaco, Texas, on May 27, 2015, about the problems some immigrant parents are having in obtaining a birth certificate for their child.