Update July 20: State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, has released a statement condemning the birth certificate denials.
Two legislators have weighed in on the controversy over Texas’ refusal to grant birth certificates to some children of undocumented families. On Wednesday, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent a letter to Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Kirk Cole, referencing an Observer story published online Monday. He wrote that he was “alarmed” by the article as well as “a lawsuit that surfaced this week” over the agency’s refusal to issue birth certificates to people born in the United States.
At least 17 families have joined the lawsuit filed last month by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Jennifer Harbury and Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Jim Harrington.
In his letter to Cole, Hinojosa noted that 13 of the 17 plaintiffs are residents of Hidalgo County, in his Senate district. “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.”
State Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., D-Fort Worth, also sent a letter to Cole. “Any person born in Texas deserves all documentation and privileges concomitant with being both a United States and Texas citizen,” he wrote. “The U.S. Constitution speaks directly to the issue of birthright citizenship. It makes clear that birthright citizenship is a matter of constitutional right.”
Harbury says she’s grateful the legislators are weighing in on the matter. At the crux of the lawsuit is the state’s sudden decision not to honor the matricula consular, which is an official photo ID issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican nationals living in the U.S. In the past, Texas has deemed the matricula consular an acceptable form of ID.
In his letter to Cole, Hinojosa noted that the state’s “new policy” has never been “stated or even publicly proposed.”
Harbury says she continues to hear from despondent families looking for help. “I received a call yesterday from a family denied a birth certificate in Travis County,” she says. “I’ve also heard of serious problems in El Paso and Laredo.”
In June, the Dallas County Clerk’s Office announced that it would no longer accept the matricula consular as an acceptable form of ID for birth certificates.
“We’re all wondering when this state policy was changed and by whom,” Harbury says. Based on her conversations with clients, Harbury says the refusals apparently began last year, around the time that President Obama issued executive actions—known as DACA and DAPA—to extend protections against deportation to undocumented students and parents of U.S. citizens.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who was attorney general at the time, led 25 other states in a lawsuit against the Obama administration to stop the new policies from taking effect. In February 2015, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville issued a temporary injunction blocking the executive actions. The matter is now before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Harbury thinks the policy change could also have something to do with the influx of Central American families that peaked last summer. “They are targeting the undocumented population, but immigration is a federal function and not the job of the Department of State Health Services,” Harbury says.
DSHS spokesperson Chris van Deusen says it has been the agency’s policy since 2008 not to accept the matricula consular. “I can’t speak on behalf of the local registrars,” he says, but “there hasn’t been any wholesale communication” directing county and city officials to stop accepting the document.
But Harbury says something has definitely changed, because families are calling her office daily. The state is expected to file its response to the lawsuit on July 22. “I’d be very happy to see this resolved soon,” Harbury says. “A lot of families are suffering right now.”
Listen to Melissa del Bosque talk about the issue at the start of Texas Standard: