In the News

DeFrates: Denying birthright citizenship is wrong

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Ana Rodriguez DeFrates
The Houston Chronicle

This article was originally posted on 

I am the daughter of Argentine immigrants, and I was born in Libya as a result of my father's work there in 1977.

When I was a teenager, growing up in Houston, my mother shared with me the unique circumstances of my birth - the Libyan government had declared me Argentine because I was born to Argentine citizens, and in turn the Argentine government refused to recognize me as a citizen because I was born on foreign soil. I was stateless until we arrived in the United States in 1983. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, 'that would never happen in this country - Texas would never deny a U.S.-born infant the rights afforded to all other citizens.'

It's hard to believe, but I was wrong. Because right now, across the state of Texas, U.S.-born children are being denied the first and most basic right of citizenship: a birth certificate. Without this critical identification, these citizen children are left vulnerable to consequences that range from appalling - like a  child being unable to enroll in school or obtain health care, to horrific - like a mother having no proof that her child indeed belongs to her.

Having a child sometimes can be a scary, joyful and complicated experience. But something that most of us take for granted is the ability to obtain a birth certificate for our newborn children. For immigrant Latinas in Texas, this is increasingly denied. As a Latina, an immigrant and a mother, I'm outraged. The anticipation for the birth of our second child early next year is made less joyous by the fact that my sisters in the Rio Grande Valley cannot obtain a birth certificate for their own babies.

Right now, immigrant parents living in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr counties are being denied birth certificates for their U.S.-born children by the Texas Department of State Health Services Vital Statistics Unit.

This denial is almost exclusively linked to the recent rejection of matriculas - an official photo identification card issued by the person's local consulate. Also being denied as proof of identity are valid foreign passports not containing U.S. visas. Both of these official documents have historically served as acceptable forms of identification to satisfy state requirements for obtaining a birth certificate. In some cases, mothers were able to obtain birth certificates for their older children using these documents, but were later denied birth certificates using the same valid documents for their younger children.

While the details of this practice are still emerging, it's no coincidence that the ID requirements changed just as public dialogue around immigration policy intensified. This cruel and abrupt policy shift is an attack on immigrant mothers, plain and simple. It is a punitive and anti-family policy that serves only to makes women's lives more difficult and endanger their children.

This discriminatory policy shift is an affront to reproductive justice. There can be no reproductive justice until mothers and fathers have the ability to parent their children in a safe and healthy environment. Unfortunately, there exists a long history of attacks on immigrant women reflected in state and federal policies that serve to limit access to health care, and in this case, directly attack birthright citizenship for mixed-status families.

How is this even legal? What is happening in the Texas I love so much is a clear violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment - the section of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I am confident that despite these cruel attacks on Texas immigrant families, birthright citizenship will stand. But it looks like we won't succeed in securing this basic right without a fight.

The good news is that Latinas are not backing down. Sixteen families have filed suit against the state on behalf of their Texas-born children. And while Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and the Texas Civil Rights Project work to represent these families in court, the Texas Latina Advocacy Network of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health will be meeting directly with state and federal lawmakers of South Texas to make them aware of how this policy shift affects families living in their districts.

Texas cannot be allowed to do this quietly. We need to shine a light on this unconstitutional, unconscionable injustice.

This is not the Texas I am so proud to be a citizen of, and it must be stopped.

DeFrates is the Texas Latina Advocacy Network state policy and advocacy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.