Juana, a 33-year-old mother of three, works as a kale picker on the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas, where she shares a one-bedroom trailer with her children. She was born in Mexico, and her uncle helped her to cross into Texas when she was 14 years old.
“I’ve been here practically half my life,” said Juana, who did not want to reveal her last name because she is undocumented. “I pay taxes. I’ve never depended on the government.”
Her children, born the Texas side of the border, are U.S. citizens. But when she went to the local vital statistics office earlier this year to get a copy of her youngest daughter’s birth certificate, she was turned away for lack of proper identification. Her child, who was born in November 2013, still does not have a birth certificate.
“What’s going to happen if she’s in an emergency?” she asked. “Will they say they can’t treat her because she doesn’t have a birth certificate?”
Juana is among 28 undocumented immigrants who are suing the Texas Department of State Health Services on behalf of their U.S.-born children for denying them their birth certificates. The suit was filed in May and was amended on Tuesday to include more plaintiffs.
The 14th Amendment states that all people born in the U.S. are citizens. But in the immigrants’ lawsuit, the two civil rights groups suing the state on the immigrants’ behalf say the department is violating the law by refusing to recognize the matrícula consular — an ID card issued by Mexican consulates — as a valid form of identification.
Parents must present a birth certificate to enroll a child in school or day care, apply for benefits or even to have a child baptized.
Because undocumented immigrants, many of them from Mexico and Central America, do not have a required form of ID like a green card or work authorization papers, they are required to show two secondary forms of identification to get a child’s birth certificate. Often that includes the matrícula consular. But Texas in 2008 announced a new policy of rejecting matrículas, citing security concerns. The measure went largely unenforced until 2013.
The lawsuit accuses Texas of deciding to reject the matrículas knowing that undocumented immigrants are largely unable to present other forms of ID.
“Even though the Mexican government has carefully revised its matrícula to greatly increase its security, the new matrículas are still being rejected,” the court documents read. “By denying the plaintiff children their birth certificates, defendants have created a category of second-class citizens, disadvantaged from childhood on with respect to health and educational opportunities.”
“What are these kids going to do?” said Olivares. “They’re U.S. citizens. They have no birth certificate. That’s outrageous to me. And discriminatory.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in an emailed statement that it “provides certified birth certificates without regard to the requester’s immigration status and has never accepted the matrícula consular as adequate identification. This is because the documents used to obtain the matrícula are not verified by the issuing consulate.”
Juana, for her part, did not encounter problems presenting her matrícula along with hospital records to obtain birth certificates for her two older children, who are 13 and 8 years old. But obtaining a birth certificate for her youngest child has proved challenging. She has lost work lately because she cannot get her 1-year-old daughter accepted into day care without a birth certificate.
“She should have the same rights as a child born to American parents,” she said.