accused of mistakenly detaining, deporting, or denying entry to U.S. citizens. Since a heightened security measure called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect last June, most of those targeted for interrogation at ports of entry, immigration attorneys like Diez say, have been U.S. citizens who present birth documents registered by midwives people like Garcia and the Castro sisters, born in U.S. The new mandate requires U.S. citizens to present passports, passport cards, or other “initiativecompliant” documents when crossing from Mexico by land. Even before it was implemented, the requirement brought to light a series of complications faced by people born with the assistance of midwives. For years, the U.S. State Department had been rejecting passport applications from people whose births were attended by midwives, citing the forgery convictions. The issue came to widespread attention two years ago, when an increasing number of border residents began requesting passports to comply with the new travel-security measures. Immigration attorneys say they began to see a stream of cases in which the U.S. State Department sent applicants in bureaucratic loops, asking them to provide all sorts of supplementary proof of citizenshipincluding newspaper birth announcements and high-school yearbook photos. Rejected applicants included children, senior citizens, U.S. military veterans and federal employees. The pro cess was so arbitrary, says Diez, that some siblings in the same family would get their passports while others were denied. The Castros were a case in point: While Laura Nancy received her passport within weeks of applying, Yuliana had been asked to provide additional proof of citizenshipand was still waiting when she was denied entry last August. In a class-action lawsuit against the State Department, the ACLU and immigration attorneys representing citizens whose applications had been rejected claimed that the department had “adopted a blanket suspicion toward one group of passport applicants.” In a settlement last year, the department agreed to initiate new procedures and training for officials taking passport applications. The settlement helped some, but many others’ requests remain in limbo, says Diez. Customs officers at ports of entry, like the ones who sent Garcia and the Castros back to Mexico, are not bound by the agreement. “These are issues that should be handled in a courtroom, not the port of entry, where people do not have access to counsel, nor their constitutional rights,” Diez says. For many U.S. citizens still awaiting passports, border checkpoints are where their fates are decided, with customs officers serving as judge and jury. Citing ongoing legal proceedings, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials declined to comment about their procedures. Eddie Perez, public affairs Jessica Garcia, pictured with her 3-year-old daughter at a Matamoros port of entry. A U.S. citizen, Garcia has been denied entry into the United States. PHOTO BY JAZMINE ULLOA READ about a midwives CI class-action lawsuit at txlo.com!aclu MAY 14, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER , 9
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