September 10, 2008

South Texans allege passport bias

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Residents of the Rio Grande Valley have filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, claiming they are being denied passports because they are of Mexican descent and were born with the aid of midwives.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Refugio del Rio Grande Inc., and a law firm in Washington are aiding the nine named plaintiffs in the suit filed Tuesday in Brownsville. They say the problem appears to be limited to those with Hispanic surnames living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"There's never been a question that they're U.S. citizens until they apply for a passport," said Robin Goldfaden of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

Midwives often were used by border families who couldn't afford doctors and hospital care, but in the 1990s, dozens of midwives were convicted of forging birth certificates for children born in Mexico. So, the government has been demanding additional proof of citizenship.

State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson declined Wednesday to comment on the pending lawsuit but noted that the agency can't issue a passport — a document that means someone is legally a citizen — unless it has established the applicant is "more likely than not really a U.S. citizen."

The State Department has been hit with a crush of passport requests because new security rules will require everyone re-entering the United States from Mexico, even on day trips, to present a passport, passport card or similar federally approved document starting in July.

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Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?