SAN JUAN, RGV – La Unión del Pueblo Entero recently secured two major legal victories, one related to birth certificates for babies born in Texas to undocumented mothers, and the other related to voter identification laws.

In both cases, LUPE, a community group that helps immigrant and low-income families in colonias in Hidalgo County, was involved in the litigation.

John-Michael Torres, communications coordinator for LUPE, explains the legal challenges and the outcome of the litigation:

John-Michael Torres
John-Michael Torres

Birth Certificates

After more than a year of litigation, we reached an agreement with the State of Texas to guarantee that all U.S.-born, citizen children born in Texas can receive birth certificates, including those born to undocumented mothers.

This is a victory for the courageous mothers who spoke out against the state’s discriminatory policy. It is also a victory for all of us who value the guarantee that our U.S.-born children will unquestionably be citizens of the United States of America.

Now, Texas will accept the Mexican voter registration card; identification documents issued by the consulates of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; and a wide range of supporting documents. Officials will also undertake significant efforts to train local registrars on the new rules in the coming nine months. In addition, the State will run a hotline for anyone who is wrongly turned away by local registrars.

We all value the guarantee that our U.S.-born children will unquestionably be citizens of the United States, and that they will have the constitutional freedoms and protections that citizenship entails.

Until this victory, official policy of the State of Texas was undermining that guarantee.

In 2013, Texas changed the rules regarding what types of ID parents could present to obtain a birth certificate for their children born here in the state. Texas began refusing the two forms of IDs that most undocumented immigrants could access: the matricula consular and all foreign passports without a visa.

Mothers were being denied the primary means to prove their child’s U.S. Citizenship and ensure their child had access to the services and protections citizenship entails.

In response, LUPE and dozens of immigrant families sued the State of Texas. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) represented the Texas-born child plaintiffs, while the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) represented the adult plaintiffs.

After a year of litigation, local actions, and over 48,000 petition signatures calling on the state to end this discriminatory policy, we won!

This is a critical victory for immigrant families, but it is also a victory for the constitutional rights of all of us. The struggle of these mothers to obtain the birth certificates of their children is also a fight to protect the guarantee that all our US-born children will unquestionably be citizens of the United States of America.

Voter ID

At its core, democracy is about participation. The future of our state is stronger when more Texans have the opportunity to participate in the decisions and processes that impact our lives. That’s why Texas’ Voter ID law, SB 14, is such an affront to democracy. That’s why LUPE and other plaintiffs challenged it in court. And that’s why we won.

From the beginning, Texas’ Voter ID law violated that principal of participation. Texas’ SB 14 was the most limiting voter ID law in the nation, allowing polling officials to accept only a handful of ID types, and ensuring that those without access to those ID types, predominantly members of the African American and Latino communities, would be turned away at the polls. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid represented us in asking the court to strike down the discriminatory law.

This week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a blow to Texas’ efforts to restrict participation. The court ruled that Texas’ SB 14 is illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act and that there has to be something different put in place before the November elections. The appeals court instructs the lower court to draw up an interim remedy, and emphasizes that the remedy should be ready in time for voters to cast their ballots in the 2016 elections.

In light of this ruling, we affirm the principal that participation is what makes democracy work. From advocating for safer, healthier neighborhoods, to voting for representatives that support our ideals in Austin and Washington, we should all have the opportunity to play a role in making the state and the nation a better place.

We celebrate this victory today and continue to work to remove barriers to participation at the local, state and national levels. Our work is to elevate the voices of everyday people, so that one day, all of our voices will be heard and respected at the State Capitol and beyond.

You can be part of LUPE’s effort to make every voice count by registering to vote, if you are eligible, or by joining LUPE’s Ven con Diez campaign, to learn how to animate your friends and family to vote. Contact a LUPE office near you to learn how to get involved, or sign up online to volunteer.