Parents Take Texas to Court Over Policy Denying Access to Birth Certificates

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Texas is denying birth certificates to American children based on their parents’ immigrant status. This is the assertion at the heart of the lawsuit brought by immigrant parents against the state of Texas.

These parents, whose children were born in America, only have access to certain documents as a result of their legal status. One of those is the matricula consular, which Texas argues it has never accepted as a form of identification for the purpose of getting a birth certificate.

Thomas Albright, an assistant attorney general for Texas, went so far as to suggest that the entire lawsuit was focused on the “legitimacy of the matricula,” the Texas Observer reported. Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), dismissed this claim, saying “We don’t care about the matricula.” Their only goal is to help these parents get their children’s birth certificates.

There is more to this lawsuit than Albright would have the courts believe. The lawsuit, which started with four parents, has now expanded to almost thirty. If this is about birth certificates, why so much fuss over the matricula?

For unauthorized immigrant parents, the matricula consular is a form of documentation made available through the Mexican consulate. This form of ID, Mexican Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez argued in his amicus brief, is incredibly secure and has been in use for the last 144 years.

By refusing to accept this form of identification, Gonzalez told KVUE, Texas “is requiring parents of U.S. born children who are undocumented to ID themselves with documents that are simply not available to them,” which is putting the livelihoods of their children at risk.

The state claims that this policy of refusing the matricula is a long-standing practice for state agencies, but those in the suit argue otherwise.

The parents who brought the case have alleged that the state has previously accepted the matricula in years past, but changed the policy in response to rising xenophobia targeted at undocumented Mexican immigrants.

For one of the women represented in the case, access to a birth certificate is about more than enrolling her children in school.

She told KVUE, “”For me it’s very important, because I’m fighting for my kids in Mexico.”

Three years ago, her children’s father went back to Mexico – and took her kids with him. She is unable to start the process of extradition to get them back without their birth certificates.

Through this policy, Harbury argued, Texas has “locked all available doors” to the unauthorized parents of American citizen children. What’s more, she points out, Texas is the only state refusing to recognize the matricula.

Elected officials in Texas are joining the growing opposition to the policy.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt submitted an amicus brief detailing the importance of access to birth certificates for these families in Travis County. “I’m confident the matrícula consular is a secure form of identification,” Eckhardt stated, refuting the state’s claims that these policies were based on fears of fraud. “It’s a secure form of ID that has historically been accepted by various Travis County agencies,” she continued, adding “Rejecting this secure form of ID impedes the delivery of services to Travis County residents.”

Acting in her capacity as Legal Counsel to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, State Representative Ana Hernandez pointed out the inconsistency of this policy, saying in a letter to Judge Pitman that:

    “This is a major departure from prior practice in counties across the state, as parents have previously been able to obtain a copy of their child’s birth certificate by providing their passport or a consular ID from their country of national origin in lieu of a US-issued ID.”

Hernandez goes on to question the “legal rationale” for the state’s position on the policy, and to outline the myriad ways this denial of a birth certificate is both damaging to the children and institutionalized discrimination against the parents.

Pitman is expected first to consider the question of an injunction against the policy, which should allow the parents represented in the lawsuit access to their children’s birth certificates.

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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