The United States has a long history of birthright citizenship. That is to say – if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen. It doesn’t matter who your parents are, where they are from, or what their legal status is. Simply by being born in the United States, you are an American citizen.
This standard for citizenship by birth received a lot of scrutiny in 2010, when Republican lawmakers were obsessed over the “anchor baby,” the xenophobic topic du jour. The idea was that undocumented immigrants were purposefully planning to come into the country without authorization, give birth to a child, and use that child as an anchor to U.S. citizenship.
As far too many families know, your child’s (or sibling’s) legal status is not a magic cure to the constant threat of deportation hanging over those members of the family who are not documented.
Children can help their parents gain documentation, this much is true. The United States provides unlimited Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas to family members, including spouses, unmarried children, orphans who will be adopted, and parents. But a child cannot even start this extensive process until they turn twenty one.
Despite the facts, which show that having a child in the United States guarantees nothing aside from that child’s citizenship, many of those who most vehemently oppose the presence of undocumented immigrants still maintain that birthright citizenship should not be available to the children of immigrants. Though an attitude of mistrust towards immigrants and their children is certainly nothing new in America, any attempt to bar the access of children born to immigrant parents in the United States from their citizenship would represent a significant shift in what it means to be an American.
Across Texas, American children and their mothers have found themselves at the center of this shift as DSHS employees deny them access to United States birth certificates – a document that, according to the law of our country, is their birthright.
Though there have been occasional mistakes of this type in the past, where someone was refused a birth certificate at first before having the issue resolved. But now, mothers across the state have been expressly refused access to their children’s birth certificates. Four of these women are taking this issue to court, the Texas Observer reported>.
According to the Observer, these mothers were turned away by local employees of the Texas Department of State Health Services in Cameron and Hidalgo County. Though state law recognizes the use of foreign identification if the mother doesn’t have American documents, these employees told them that the matricula consular, a Mexican-issued ID, or a foreign passport without a current visa would no longer be accepted.
Miguel Solis, the Executive Director of the Latino Center for Leadership Development responded with a statement:
“It is reprehensible that U.S. citizens are being denied birth certificates based on who their parents are. These actions disproportionately hurt Hispanic children in Texas. The state should not fight battles about constitutionally protected rights which have long been settled.”
State Representative Ana Hernandez wrote a letter to Commissioner of Health Kirk Coal, calling the decision a “major departure from prior practice.” She also questioned the legal basis for the actions of the local employees, saying, “No section under Texas’s Health and Safety Code mandates that the Department require verification of immigrant status or national original before the issuance of a birth certificate to the parents of an American-born child. This practice also runs counter to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which grants citizenship to all children born in the United States, regardless of whether their parents are citizens.”
Rep. Hernandez continued:
“By denying birth certificates to the parents of these American children, the Department is endangering each child’s ability to enroll in school, prove their legal identity, and receive all rights and privileges due to them as citizens of the United States. In effect, the Department is treating one group of American minors differently due to the national origin of their parents.”
And that is the central issue here: these children are United States citizens. Birth certificates are absolutely necessary for them to access any basic services, such as public school, and eventually, their ability to vote. By targeting children of undocumented parents in Texas, these employees have determined to discriminate against these children on the basis of their parents’ legal status – and that is completely unacceptable.