Texas eases birth certificate rules for children with undocumented parents

Texas agreed to expand the list of documents that may be submitted to obtain birth certificates for US-born children whose parents entered the country illegally. 

Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/AP
Maria Francisca Rodriguez holds her son, Gustavo Martinez, in San Juan, Texas. Texas officials have agreed to accept more types of documents from parents who entered the United States illegally but are seeking birth certificates for their children born in the US.

The state of Texas has agreed to expand the list of acceptable documentation parents who entered the country illegally may submit to obtain birth certificates for their US-born children, officials said Monday. The agreement settles a federal lawsuit that argued the lack of birth certificates made it more difficult for parents to enroll their citizen children in school, health programs, and other services. 

The 62-plaintiff lawsuit, filed in May, was brought forth by parents from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. 

"Without birth certificates, our clients lived in constant fear of having their families torn apart and their American-born children deported. They also struggled to get access to basic education, health and child-care services," Efrén Olivares, who represents the parents as regional legal director of Texas Civil Rights Project's south Texas office, told The Los Angeles Times. "This settlement will be life-changing for immigrant communities across the state."

In recent years, Texas had made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to obtain birth certificates for their children born in the United States, by tightening restrictions on alternative documents that could be used by immigrants without US-issued identification. Officials did not accept parents' foreign passports without US visas, or photo identification issued by Mexican consulates in the US, for example. 

The stricter guidelines came during a dramatic influx of migration from Central America over the past three years. Since October 2015, 34,289 Central American immigrants have moved into the Rio Grande Valley, the Times reported. 

Now, officials will accept a broader array of documentation from parents seeking to obtain US birth certificates for their newborns, including Mexican voter identification cards, and supporting documents such as marriage licenses or school transcripts. Mexican voter IDs were always allowed, but some officials were not accepting them, a spokeswoman for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which also represented parents, told The Dallas Morning News. For El Salvadorian, Honduran, and Guatemalan parents, temporary ID certification from their origin country's consul will be accepted.   

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for Texas' Department of State Health Services, told the Los Angeles Times the agreement "will allow the state to continue to provide necessary birth certificates to authorized people and do so in a way that maintains the security of state birth records." Previously, the department had argued that the Mexican consular IDs did not provide secure identification, according to the Dallas Morning News, but plaintiffs' attorneys say they have now been updated with microchips.  

Birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants has become an issue during this presidential campaign, with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump questioning the 14th Amendment right of citizenship for those born in the US to immigrant parents who are here illegally. On Monday, some conservative analysts spoke out against Texas' settlement. 

"This is yet another example of how our institutions are being asked to accommodate foreigners who think they are above the law," Jon Feere, legal policy analyst at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies based in Washington, D.C., told the Los Angeles Times. "This entire issue could be avoided if people entered our country lawfully. Texas officials now are expected to become experts in a variety of foreign documents of questionable reliability."

However, the immigrant parents are hailing the ruling as progress and are happy their children will have birth certificates and the benefits that come with them.

"It's just about respecting what is in the Constitution," Juana Gomez, a Mexican undocumented immigrant, told The New York Times. "I don't think of it as just good for me. A lot of mothers are happy and satisfied."

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