Families Suing Texas For Being Too Tough On Undocumented Parents Might Have A Point

Lawyers say the state is stopping parents from getting birth certificates for their kids, who are U.S. citizens.

Attorneys in Texas say undocumented immigrants potentially numbering in the hundreds or thousands are being blocked from picking up their U.S.-born children's birth certificates. It's another setback for families that are already facing attacks on their children's constitutional right to citizenship as so-called "anchor babies" and continued deportation risk because of an effort led by Texas to block deportation relief for parents.

Texas claims its policies are nothing out of the ordinary, and most states do require people to show ID before obtaining a copy of a child's birth certificate. But a review of all 50 states' policies found that in most of them, picking up a birth certificate isn't all that hard. A number of states accept foreign-issued IDs that Texas does not, or have policies in place for people who cannot provide the required identification. A small number don't require people to show ID at all.

When a child is born, a hospital typically sends information about the birth to the state. Immediate family members then can obtain the child's birth certificate from the government, and they usually need to provide some form of ID to do so. Birth certificates are vital in many situations, including getting a driver's license or a passport, registering for school or obtaining a social security card. That means kids without one can face major problems.

Attorneys in Texas say it wasn't always difficult for undocumented immigrants to get birth certificates for their children. But while the state says none of its policies have changed, a lawsuit filed in May alleges that an increasing number of undocumented parents are facing hurdles in getting their kids' documents, even if they were able to only a few years ago using the same identification cards they're trying to use now.

"People who are undocumented are stuck," said Efrén Olivares, staff attorney at the South Texas Civil Rights Project and one of the lawyers representing the families. "They cannot produce the forms of ID that the state is requiring of them to produce as their ID."

Officials in Texas, which is arguing the lawsuit should be thrown out, say legal immigration status has nothing to do with it. The state does not require that people who pick up birth certificates be in the country legally, and does accept some forms of foreign identification, such as Mexican voter registration cards and driver's licenses, according to Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

But the plaintiffs don't have those IDs, in part because most of the parents left Mexico before they turned 18 and were able to drive or vote, according to Olivares. They have other identification, but the state won't accept it. Although the regulations state that "foreign Identification with identifiable photo of applicant" can be used, Texas does not accept identification issued by the Mexican consulate, called a matrícula consular, or foreign passports without a U.S. visa.

Van Deusen told Austin, Texas, television station KVUE that "is because the documents used to obtain the matrícula are not verified by the issuing consulate." He added that "several other states and federal agencies also do not accept the matrícula as a valid form of identification for the same reason."

Critics say the consular IDs can be easily faked. But the Mexican government said in an affidavit for the birth certificate lawsuit that it stores identity information "in a single, central database," and that the IDs would be "extraordinarily difficult to forge or to alter" because of features such as holographs, encrypted personal information and high-quality photographs.

The Huffington Post set out to find out what identification other states require in order to give a parent a child's birth certificate. Of the 42 states where staffers or other sources provided an answer, five states' officials said identification wasn't necessary at all to pick up birth certificates. California requires an individual to submit a sworn statement, so confirming their identity is up to the notary, while Washington, Vermont, Kentucky and Ohio allow anyone to get a copy of a birth certificate if they have basic facts such as a person's name, date of birth and his or her parents' names, according to spokespeople. (Of the eight remaining states and the District of Columbia, written requirements did not specify what a person would need to obtain a birth certificate, and staffers were unsure or did not reply to questions.)

Map by Alissa Scheller for The Huffington Post.

Twenty-two states would either certainly or likely accept consular IDs as a form of identification, according to their websites, staffers or the Mexican consulate. Some of those states require an individual to show a second form of ID along with the consular card; others allow it as a primary form.

Fifteen other states do not accept consular IDs as a form of identification, according to staff members or their websites. These states range in terms of what other ID an undocumented immigrant might be able to offer in order to obtain their child's birth certificate. Colorado has fairly strict requirements, but it allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses -- along with 11 other states and the District of Columbia -- something that significantly mitigates the problem.

Most of the states that do not accept consular IDs have options for people without an accepted government-issued ID. In Arizona, which is infamous for its efforts to restrict unauthorized immigration, individuals can get a copy of a birth certificate with a notarized signature, so long as they have a credible witness with an ID who can attest to their identity. Several other states allow individuals without a valid ID to submit two other documents, such as a bank statement, utility bill or pay stub. Arkansas, unlike Texas, does not accept foreign driver's licenses or Mexican voter registration cards. But it does accept foreign passports, regardless of whether there is a current visa, a spokeswoman said.

Neither Virginia nor Oklahoma accept consular IDs or foreign passports without a valid U.S. visa, putting them in the same camp as Texas. Both allow individuals without a primary ID to submit two secondary forms -- although some of those forms, such as a voter registration application, would exclude undocumented immigrants. Others forms be easier to obtain, such as a pay stub or utility bill. Parents in Virginia without the required identification can receive a birth certificate using a letter from the hospital where the child was born.

In spite of other states' requirements, critics say Texas' policies are the only ones causing large numbers of undocumented parents to be denied birth certificates for their children.

"We haven't heard of this happening in other states," Olivares said. He added that they aren't necessarily calling for Texas to accept consular IDs, but they want the options to be more expansive.

Texas has a restrictive list of acceptable identification, at least for undocumented immigrants. Very few undocumented people would be likely to have the primary IDs listed by the state, other than a portion who might have a driver's license, either from another state or because they have deferred action to remain in the country. If an individual does not have one of the primary IDs, he or she can provide two of another type. Of those secondary forms listed, only a few are things an undocumented immigrant might be eligible for: a Mexican voter registration card, foreign identification with a photo (such as a driver's license), or current student ID.

Should a person have only one of the secondary forms, he or she must show two other supporting documents, such as a recent utility bill or a pay stub. If none of the child's immediate family members have any of the secondary forms, the only option is get a notarized statement authorizing someone else to pick up the birth certificate for them, Van Deusen said.

A judge will hear the lawsuit on Oct. 2, after attorneys filed for an emergency injunction on Aug. 21 asking the judge to act quickly because the lack of birth certificates could prevent children from being able to enroll in school. Olivares said one of the plaintiffs missed two weeks of school last year because his parents could not obtain a birth certificate.

Van Deusen, the spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told KVUE that those concerned about enrolling in school can request a school certificate from the state that verifies the child's name and age. No identification is needed for that certificate, Van Deusen said.

Texas' explanations haven't satisfied Mexican officials, though.

"This policy puts recently born children to undocumented immigrants in a state of great vulnerability," Mexico's secretariat of foreign relations said in a statement last week, after filing an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit. Texas authorities are "violating the right to identity" and "blocking access to basic services like health and education," the statement added.

Roque Planas and Matt Ramos contributed reporting.