THE 14TH Amendment, ratified in 1868, states plainly that citizenship is automatically conferred on anyone born in the United States. Lately the state of Texas, blinded to the law by its antipathy to illegal immigrants, has determined that it is somehow exempt from that provision of the Constitution.
In an act of stunning official arrogance, the state has been refusing to issue birth certificates to increasing numbers of Texas-born children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Without birth certificates, the children face barriers to being enrolled in day care and school, receiving Medicaid benefits — even being baptized.
The children, who so far number in the hundreds and possibly the thousands, are U.S. citizens. Yet by refusing to issue them birth certificates, on the pretext that their parents’ documents — including passports and photo IDs issued by Mexican consulates — do not meet the state’s standards, Texas is in effect making them stateless non-persons, devoid of rights and privileges.
No other state has pursued such a pernicious campaign against the blameless American-born children of immigrants in this country illegally. While half a dozen Republican candidates have said they favor overturning the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship, only Texas has adopted policies whose effect is to overturn it unilaterally.
The state’s position is that it is enforcing long-standing rules governing the documents it will accept from parents seeking to obtain birth certificates from local registrars. Acceptable documents include driver’s licenses, U.S. visas and unexpired voter ID cards issued by Mexico and other countries.
Lacking those documents, many undocumented immigrants in the past presented local officials with photo IDs issued by the dozen or so Mexican consulates in Texas. But in the past couple of years, as Republicans took exception to President Obama’s moves to temporarily protect some unauthorized immigrants from deportation, Texas cracked down, declaring that registrars would no longer accept consular cards from parents seeking birth certificates for their children. Groups representing undocumented immigrants and their children are suing the state in federal court.
Texas officials say their interest is to fight fraud and identity theft, insisting that Mexican consulates issue the photo IDs without authenticating documents presented by immigrants — an allegation Mexican officials strongly deny. Many other states accept the consular cards as valid IDs.
In any event, if Texas will not accept the consular cards, it is obliged to find some other means of issuing birth certificates to children born in the state; their parents’ immigration status is irrelevant. On Friday, lawyers representing some 60 undocumented parents and their children asked a federal judge to compel the state to issue the birth certificates.
Texas’s position subjects children and their parents to a Kafkaesque hall of mirrors. Officially, the state acknowledges that the children are U.S. citizens. It says their birth certificates are in the state’s database. But without issuing those certificates, it leaves certain immigrants unable to prove that they are their children’s parents and children unable to prove that they exist in any official capacity. That’s not governance; it’s harassment and oppression.