AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lawyers for immigrant families denied birth certificates for U.S.-born children by Texas health officials told a federal judge Friday that a state agency must provide another option if certain forms of foreign-issued identification cannot be accepted.
The immigrant rights attorneys are seeking an emergency injunction that would make it easier for families to obtain certificates for their Texas-born children. They say the children’s rights to health care, travel and schooling — along with their parents’ rights to protect them — are being harmed by tightened identification standards.
During Friday’s hearing in Austin, they asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to order the Texas Department of State Health Services to re-establish certain foreign-issued identification as valid or name alternative forms that are “reasonably accessible” for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.
Lawyers for the state countered that there are other avenues for these immigrant families to get birth certificates besides the contested foreign documents, and that schools and Medicaid remain open to children even without birth certificates. The judge said he would rule at a later date.
The immigrant rights lawyers, who now represent 28 adults and their 32 children, first sued the state agency last May. The parents in the lawsuit entered the country illegally from Mexico and Central America, but the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees the right of citizenship to children born here.
Birthright citizenship has emerged as a controversial topic in the presidential debates, with Republican contender Donald Trump promising to end it for children of parents without legal status.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Jennifer Harbury, who is representing the children, told the judge that changes to identification rules “have locked this community out of the birth certificate network,” with some children unable to access schooling or health care, or put at risk of deportation.
“What we’re suggesting is that the state must open one door in any manner they see correct to the undocumented parent community to give them reasonable access to birth certificates for their children,” she said.
Harbury said the Department of State Health Services in 2012 and 2013 started advising local registrars not to accept identifications issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States. She said parents had been able to present these identification documents— as well as foreign passports without U.S. visas in them— and still obtain birth certificates in Texas. Several of the parents in the suit had little problem obtaining certificates for their older children, she noted.
Thomas Albright, an assistant attorney general representing officials with the Department of State Health Services’ Vital Statistics Unit, questioned the security and reliability of identification cards issued by Mexican consulates, noting that these are not considered valid by various federal agencies.
The immigrant rights attorneys say the consular cards are secure, backed by a Mexican government database, and accepted by local law enforcement and in other legal contexts.
Albright said in court that many families named in the suit would have been able to legally obtain a birth certificate by other means, including through other family members such as grandparents.
Texas health officials have said in court filings that there are 42 acceptable forms of identification.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Friday that “now is not the time to relax our requirements and accept forms of identification that may not sufficiently prove that a requestor is who they say they are.”
Albright said proof that the state’s rules had harmed the immigrant families’ fundamental rights was scarce, because each family’s circumstance was different. He said “a great many of these plaintiffs could very well have the documents” needed to obtain birth certificates and that the families’ lawyers “have not shown that there are no keys to come through the door.”
Judge Pitman asked Albright whether there was indeed evidence of fraud among parents seeking birth certificates.
“Is this such a problem, people obtaining birth certificates they’re not entitled to, that you have to erect this type of barrier to people who are entitled to one?” the judge asked.
Pitman said if not, the state’s rules could be considered “a solution in search of a problem.”