Her children, born the Texas side of the border, are U.S. citizens. But when she went to the local vital statistics office earlier this year to get a copy of her youngest daughter’s birth certificate, she was turned away for lack of proper identification. Her child, who was born in November 2013, still does not have a birth certificate.
“What’s going to happen if she’s in an emergency?” she asked. “Will they say they can’t treat her because she doesn’t have a birth certificate?”
Juana is among 28 undocumented immigrants who are suing the Texas Department of State Health Services on behalf of their U.S.-born children for denying them their birth certificates. The suit was filed in May and was amended on Tuesday to include more plaintiffs.
The lawsuit comes as 2016 presidential candidates engaged in bitter debates about the fate of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Some 26 U.S. states filed a lawsuit attempting to block the White House’s plan to protect about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The 14th Amendment states that all people born in the U.S. are citizens. But in the immigrants’ lawsuit, the two civil rights groups suing the state on the immigrants’ behalf say the department is violating the law by refusing to recognize the matrícula consular — an ID card issued by Mexican consulates — as a valid form of identification.
Because undocumented immigrants, many of them from Mexico and Central America, do not have a required form of ID like a green card or work authorization papers, they are required to show two secondary forms of identification to get a child’s birth certificate. Often that includes the matrícula consular. But Texas in 2008 announced a new policy of rejecting matrículas, citing security concerns. The measure went largely unenforced until 2013.
“Just like anyone else with children born in the U.S., they have a right to have a birth certificate for that child so they can get medical services for them, enroll them in daycare and school, baptize them, and do all sorts of things that every other parent who has a U.S. citizen child gets to do," said Efren Olivares, an attorney for the nonprofit South Texas Civil Rights Project — which, along with Texas-based nonprofit La Union del Pueblo Entero, is representing the immigrants.
Olivares told Al Jazeera that the timing of the state’s enforcement appears to coincide with a spike in Central Americans arriving in Texas, many of them fleeing violence in their home countries.
The lawsuit accuses Texas of deciding to reject the matrículas knowing that undocumented immigrants are largely unable to present other forms of ID.
“Even though the Mexican government has carefully revised its matrícula to greatly increase its security, the new matrículas are still being rejected,” the court documents read. “By denying the plaintiff children their birth certificates, defendants have created a category of second-class citizens, disadvantaged from childhood on with respect to health and educational opportunities.”
“What are these kids going to do?” said Olivares. “They’re U.S. citizens. They have no birth certificate. That’s outrageous to me. And discriminatory.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in an emailed statement that it “provides certified birth certificates without regard to the requester’s immigration status and has never accepted the matrícula consular as adequate identification. This is because the documents used to obtain the matrícula are not verified by the issuing consulate.”
The department also said the child's parent or guardian can request what's called a school certificate, an official document that verifies the child's name and date of birth, in order to enroll their children in school. Because it contains public information, the parent doesn't have to present identification to get it.
Juana, for her part, did not encounter problems presenting her matrícula along with hospital records to obtain birth certificates for her two older children, who are 13 and 8 years old. But obtaining a birth certificate for her youngest child has proved challenging. She has lost work lately because she cannot get her 1-year-old daughter accepted into day care without a birth certificate.
“She should have the same rights as a child born to American parents,” she said