State slow to issue birth certificates for children of immigrant mothers
It has been more than one month since the state of Texas and local immigration attorneys reached an agreement allowing mothers in the country illegally to acquire birth certificates for their U.S.-born children, but local registrars have not been advised of what this agreement entails.
“It’s in the settlement agreement that they had 30 days to notify local registrars, subject to receiving the input from us,” said Efrén Olivares, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project on this case. “But we never got the draft from them to begin with.”
He explained the Texas Department of State Health Services was supposed to draft a letter advising the 254 county clerks of the new mandates after they signed an agreement on July 22, but as of Tuesday they had not received any correspondence.
“It’s feasible they will take the position that it’s 30 days after we gave them the input, so we gave them what we thought that letter should include,” said Olivarez, who expects plaintiffs to have this resolved in the next two to three weeks.
Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for DSHS, said they plan to send the letter to local registrars Wednesday.
A Legal Battle
The agreement came as a result of a May 2015 lawsuit by the Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid against DSHS on behalf of four women who are in the country illegally claiming they were denied birth certificates of their U.S.-born children.
Local immigration advocates argued DSHS changed their policy from one day to the next, advising local registrars to stop accepting the matricula, a picture identification card issued by the Mexican consulate, as a secondary form of identification. DSHS argued the matricula was never valid and claimed it did not meet their standards.
Texas is the only state in the country that does not accept the matricula as a valid form of ID to obtain birth certificates for a minor according to a July 28 statement from the Mexican Embassy in Washington.
“The Mexican government, through the consulate of Mexico in Austin, will continue insisting before state authorities about the necessity of recognizing and accepting the Mexican consulate-issued matricula, and the passport without a visa as valid, sole and sufficient forms of identification,” reads the embassy’s statement in Spanish.
After 15 months of litigation, attorneys and DSHS officials signed the agreement on July 22 to allow additional types of foreign IDs that immigrants can obtain from the consulate offices, including a Mexican voter registration card and expanded the list of supporting documents.
Mexican birth certificate applicants living in Texas must present their voter registration card, issued by the Instituto Nacional Electoral and obtained through their local consulate office, along with two of the 28 supporting documents in the expanded list.
As a result of the agreement, the list was expanded from 18 to 28 documents and now includes church records, some expired IDs, and even a library card. DSHS also determined that “certifications” issued by consulates of El Salvador meet the standards and is currently reviewing documents provided by the consulates of Guatemala and Honduras for consideration, according to officials.
For Olivares, the regional legal director of TRCP’s South Texas office, the agreement came as a victory, calling it “life-changing for immigrant communities across the state,” but DSHS downplayed the agreement as a minor addition to their list of supporting documents.
According to a statement from Van Deusen, DSHS does not require any changes to their current rules or policies as a result of the agreement. “It specifies that DSHS and local registrars will continue to accept valid Mexican voter ID cards and other secure identification issued by foreign governments as a secondary form of ID,” reads the statement.
Olivares said DSHS has been downplaying the mediated agreement since its signing and although it is true that they are not changing any of their rules, they are making numerous changes to their policy.
“Firstly, they are now accepting the consular certification document from El Salvador. That’s a type of ID that wasn’t even contemplated before,” Olivares said. “They will implement a review process for anyone who’s denied a birth certificate because they don’t have sufficient ID and designate a specific person to review the denials and explain it in writing. … That didn’t exist before and that is a change in policy.”
He added that the additional items to the supporting documents list were also critical because they are documents that are available to undocumented parents, the clients they were pushing this for in the first place. McAllen City Secretary Perla Lara said Tuesday they received the expanded list from DSHS earlier this month but had not received any further instruction from officials in Austin.
“I know it’s still in the works,” Lara said. “The latest email that I received last week said they are in the middle of processing the agreement but the city of McAllen hasn’t heard anything yet.”
An employee at the McAllen registrar’s office said Tuesday that if a parent walks in with their voter registration or a valid driver’s license from Mexico, along with two supporting documents from the list, they can apply for their child’s birth certificate.
“Some people may come in without the proper documentation so maybe there have been instances when someone is turned away,” Lara said. “But if they bring us A, B, or C, then they can come back and get it, and most of them come back.”
View the updated list of accepted forms of ID.