Archive for the ‘U.S. Citizenship’ Category

Published: November 20, 2013

Glendy Martínez is waiting anxiously to see if Congress will ever pass legislation to allow immigrants like her, without papers, to stay in the country legally. But frankly, she says, she does not care if it will include any promise of citizenship.

With the earnings from her job in a Houston hair salon, Ms. Martínez, 30, is supporting one child born in Texas and three others she left behind in her home country, Nicaragua.

“So many people back there depend on those of us who are here,” she said. “It would be such a help if we could work in peace and go back sometimes to see our children.”

As President Obama looks for a way to salvage a broad overhaul of the immigration system, he opened the door this week to a piecemeal series of smaller bills as a way of getting past the objections of the Republican-run House, which refused to take up the comprehensive measure that the Senate passed in June.

But as far as Ms. Martínez and many other immigrants are concerned, one of House Republicans’ sharpest disagreements with the Senate and the White House, over a path to citizenship for those here illegally, should not be that hard to resolve.

“For many undocumented people, citizenship is not a priority,” said Oscar A. Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a network of immigrant organizations that includes many foreigners here without papers. “What they really care about is a solution that allows them to overcome their greatest vulnerabilities.”

The Senate bill includes a 13-year pathway for 11.7 million illegal immigrants that ends with a chance to naturalize. President Obama and other supporters of that measure insist that any alternative would create a disenfranchised underclass. Many House Republicans reject the Senate path as rewarding immigrants who broke the law. But a growing number of Republicans say they remain ready to work on immigration and could consider legalization, if it did not involve any direct route to citizenship.

For foreigners like Ms. Martínez — those who cannot get a driver’s license in most states and live with gnawing worry about being fired or deported — that would be enough. They aspire to become Americans, they said in phone interviews, but would settle for less if they could work and drive legally, and visit relatives outside the country.

Another woman in Houston, Elena Sandoval, described a painful moment when her father died in El Salvador and she could not attend his funeral knowing she would not get back into the United States. Ms. Sandoval, 48, a house cleaner, sends money home for her three children.

“I can’t tell you how hard it is to leave your family,” Ms. Sandoval said with a sigh. “If only I could have permission to move about freely,” she added. “Citizenship would just be a blessing we would pray for.”

Most groups working for immigrant rights vehemently oppose any legislation that would deny millions of people the opportunity for full equality.

“We either have a path to citizenship or a path to hell,” said María Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “To codify a person who lives in this country but will never have an opportunity for citizenship creates a second class. It seems completely un-American.”

Advocates say the Senate’s path — which requires illegal immigrants to pay fines and back taxes, study English, pass criminal checks and wait in line behind foreigners who applied legally — is sufficiently long and arduous. This month there have been rallies and protests nationwide and a fast on the National Mall to pressure the House to vote on a bill with citizenship.

But among immigrants there is no consensus. In South Florida, there were anguished discussions over café con leche and empanadas among members of Dreamers’ Moms, a group of mothers of young immigrants who have joined the movement.

“Citizenship is fundamental,” insists Yaquelín López, 46, a Bolivian who has been in the United States illegally for a decade. “Otherwise we will be 11 million people left in limbo.”

Marcela Espinal agrees.

“We have been working hard for our families and paying taxes all these years and we never lived off the government,” said Ms. Espinal, 35, a Honduran employed for more than a decade in construction. “Why shouldn’t we be able to vote someday?”

Two of Ms. Espinal’s three children are already Americans, because they were born here. She wants the security of citizenship, she said, after her husband, also from Honduras, escaped deportation this year only when immigrant groups rallied to free him.

However, a mother from Argentina, Alejandra Saucedo, 43, contends that the citizenship strategy could backfire.

“I think if we stick with the message of citizenship or nothing,” Ms. Saucedo said, “we could end up with nothing.”

In the House, several dozen conservatives reject any legalization, calling it amnesty for outlaws. But Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other House leaders continue to urge Republicans to show they can fix an immigration system that is broken. Many Republicans say legalization, along with tough border and workplace enforcement, is the only practical way to deal with unauthorized immigrants who have settled in the country.

Mr. Boehner said the House would take up the issues next year in smaller bills framed by principles being devised by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia. Mr. Good-latte has said that he wants to “find the appropriate legal status for unlawful immigrants,” but that he would not grant them any special path to becoming Americans. Mr. Obama on Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal, “If they want to chop that thing up into five pies, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like.”

Republicans point to low rates of naturalization among some legal immigrants — 36 percent among Mexicans who are eligible, according to the Pew Research Center — to say that citizenship is not vital. Some Republicans also worry that by offering citizenship, they could create millions of future Democratic voters.

Some Republicans are trying to devise proposals their caucus could accept. Mr. Goodlatte and the majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, also of Virginia, are working on a bill with a path to citizenship limited to young immigrants here illegally.

Representative Darrell Issa of California, the powerful chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he had been writing a hybrid bill that would give illegal immigrants a six-year provisional status, allowing those with family ties here to naturalize eventually through regular channels, and creating a long-term guest worker program for others.

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida is proposing earned citizenship for a broader group. And three Republicans have signed on to a bill by House Democrats with a pathway mirroring the Senate’s.

Speaking on Tuesday to Hispanic evangelicals in Washington, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois who is an ardent defender of a broad overhaul, urged supporters to be ready to compromise and accept legalization only for some immigrants to protect them from deportation.

Among Latinos, a growing electorate that both parties want to court, sentiment for a path to citizenship is strong. In a recent national survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 67 percent of Latinos said immigrants here illegally should be allowed to become citizens if they met certain requirements, while 17 percent said they should only become legal residents.

In Florida, Ms. Saucedo says she fears a wave of deportations if Congress passes no bill at all. She knows what relief feels like, because after living illegally in Florida for many years, she became a legal resident through marriage to an American.

“Let them approve legalization,” Ms. Saucedo said. “After that, we will keep fighting until we reach our dream of being Americans with a vote.”


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Associated Press – April 20, 2011

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — Military service has long been one route to U.S. citizenship. Now the Army and Navy, in need of specialists and language skills in wartime, are speeding things up by allowing recruits to wrap up the process while they’re still in basic training.

It means a change in a no-visitors policy during boot camp, to allow federal immigration officers access to the recruits. But military officials say it’s a well-deserved break for volunteers who otherwise would have to slog through the bureaucratic ordeal during deployments around the world, often far from U.S. embassies.

The military route is not a short-cut for foreigners abroad to get into the U.S. Only legal immigrants can apply, officials stress, and they must complete five years of honorable service or chance having their citizenship revoked.

“The moment the Soviet Union broke up, I decided America was the place for me to be,” said Spec. Rima Rusnac, 33, of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, just after taking her oath of citizenship recently. “In America, I can exercise my full potential and be free.”

Rusnac, who holds a college degree in English and German, was finishing boot camp at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training installation. She was headed for further training as a combat medic at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, a skill that is at a premium because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As she spoke, eight other soldiers from countries including Iran, Haiti, Australia and Bangladesh celebrated and showed friends and family their new citizenship papers, just a day before they were all due to graduate from their 10 weeks of Army basic training.

“In February alone, we took in more than 200 applications,” said Karen Dalziel, an officer from Homeland Security’s citizenship and immigration arm, who administered the oath to the soldiers.

Dalziel said she has been swearing in 30 to 50 soldiers on a weekly basis.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helped speed up citizenship for military recruits. President George W. Bush signed an executive order allowing a more compressed time frame because the nation was in a “period of hostilities.” Before the change, military members had to serve one year of honorable service to even begin the sometimes-lengthy process of applying.

It can be difficult for military applicants to get access to U.S. officials while deployed around the world. So the Army opened the doors at its five basic training sites to immigration officials in late 2009, and the Navy last year started hosting immigration officials at its single basic training post near Chicago.

About 1,000 soldiers and sailors completed the citizenship process at basic training sites in fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30. About 660 have been able to complete it in the first six months of this fiscal year, said Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington.

Of course, some applicants had begun their work toward citizenship papers years ago. Overall, the government granted citizenship to 11,146 service members in fiscal 2010. Between September 2001 and the first part of the 2011 fiscal year, some 68,974 members of all service branches have become citizens, the agency says.

Men and women from other nations are critical to America’s defense, military and government officials say, because of the special language, education or job skills they have. Applicants must meet all the criteria for citizenship, including passing all security clearances and tests.

According to a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command document outlining the new program that was made available to The Associated Press, the Army and the immigration service are cooperating “to expedite citizenship processing for all non-citizen Soldiers.”

“Receiving citizenship as early as possible benefits the Soldier by opening up additional MOS (enlisted jobs, or military occupation specialty) options. Deployed commanders on the ground also benefit as they often require Soldiers with clearances which can only be granted to citizens,” said the so-called tasking order outlining the program.

The change in policy that had barred most visitors during boot camp now allows the immigration department to dispatch officers to the military posts to help applicants complete the often-complicated process.

“We take their fingerprints, their photos. We interview them, and see about their application and eligibility requirements. They take the U.S. government history test,” said Dalziel.

Lt. Col. Brian Hernandez, who is in charge of about 1,100 recruits at Fort Jackson during each training cycle, said he’s had 40 to 60 applicants for citizenship in every group he’s commanded over the past 18 months. While in Iraq, he saw how difficult it was for the immigrant-applicants to get paperwork completed. Oftentimes, a file would just get lost and fail to follow the soldier from post to post.

“We had soldiers serving in the war, and they were trying to deal with a lengthy citizenship process, and deal with that while we were deploying,” which also created difficulties for commanders because of their absences, Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who said his own father was an immigrant from Argentina, is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. He said he was sent to South America for two years as a representative of the U.S. Army and believes it is important for the military to have soldiers from many cultures.

“We find ourselves involved in places that we’ve historically not been involved in. We may not have those language skills, so we need to bring in special people,” he said, noting in particular the dearth of people in America able to speak Arabic or other Middle Eastern tongues.

Hernandez said he’s had soldier-applicants from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. “You are seeing it from across the globe,” he said.

Translators he knew who were hired by the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to the United States to enlist, Hernandez said. “And they go back, not only as U.S. soldiers, but as U.S. citizens,” he said. “That’s awesome.”

During the past year, immigration officials have worked with immigrant soldiers and recruits at the Army’s basic training installations in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort Knox, Ky. The Navy’s single basic training site is Naval Station Great Lakes north of Chicago.

During the basic training regime, recruits don’t get any special time to study for their citizenship tests. They have to keep up with their 12 to 16-hour days of training, exercise and class work. If they fail, they can try again during advanced training, Hernandez said.

“My goal is to fight terrorists,” said Army Spec. Shaheen Bahamin, 19, who fled Iran with his family and spent the last 11 years in California after some time in Pakistan, where he picked up a particular dialect spoken in both Iran and Afghanistan.

Terrorists, he said, “They are just power-hungry. In the Middle East, they would kill their own family. It could be my family they kill. That’s what I’m here, to fight them.”

Spec. Hamid Ennouri, a 26-year-old French-Moroccan fluent in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, is heading to training in logistics, using his languages to keep supplies flowing to troops stationed around the globe.

“American is the strongest country in the world,” said the one-time Parisian, who said his college studies in law and international business couldn’t help him find work. “I am interested in military intelligence work too, but I needed U.S. citizenship to get the security clearances,” Ennouri said.

Pvt. Andrew Noble, of New Brunswick, Canada, said he applied for citizenship in order to become a pilot.

“I heard the fastest way to get pilot training was through the military,” said the newly married 28-year-old, headed to repairing Blackhawk helicopters before he hopes to advance toward a flying job.

Lawrence Korb, who headed the Defense Department’s personnel and logistics branch during the Reagan administration, said the military turns over tens of thousands of people annually, putting it on a constant search for talented members.

“The military is happy to have these people because they have a heck of a time getting enough qualified folks,” said Korb, who is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

“And to try to deal with the Embassy in Baghdad or Kabul, that’s a nightmare,” said Korb. “This makes a great deal of sense.”

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WASHINGTON—In light of Tropical Storm Agatha, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reminds Guatemalans of U.S. immigration benefits available to eligible Guatemalan nationals upon request.

USCIS understands that a natural disaster can affect an individual’s ability to establish or maintain lawful immigration status. Temporary relief measures available to eligible nationals of Guatemala may include:

  • The grant of an application for change or extension of nonimmigrant status on behalf of a Guatemalan national who is currently in the United States, even in cases where the request is submitted after the individual’s authorized period of admission has expired;
  • Re-parole of individuals granted parole by USCIS;
  • Extension of certain grants of advance parole, expedited processing of advance parole requests;
  • Expedited adjudication and approval, where possible, of requests for off-campus employment authorization due to severe economic hardship for F-1 students;
  • Expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relative(s) of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs);
  • Expedited issuance of employment authorization where appropriate; and
  • Assistance to LPRs stranded overseas without documents in coordination with the Department of State.

For more information on USCIS humanitarian programs, visit www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

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At the border, U.S. citizens are being refused re-entry because they were delivered by midwives.

It was just another sweltering Monday morning in August. Yuliana Trinidad Castro sat in her truck with her mother, sister, and newborn daughter, windows up and air conditioner on high, waiting to cross into Brownsville from the Mexican border city of Matamoros. That weekend, like so many before, they had visited family on the southern side of the border. The trip back home, a sluggish procession across the international bridge through curving aisles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, was frustrating but familiar. The Castro sisters did it practically every week. “It was just so routine,” Yuliana’s sister, Laura Nancy Castro, recalled months later.

Then they reached the checkpoint. As always, the sisters, both American citizens, rolled down their windows and handed their entry documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer on duty, Eliseo Cabrera. Laura Nancy handed over her U.S. passport. Yuliana presented her daughter’s Texas birth certificate and her own, along with a receipt proving she had applied for a U.S. passport. Their mother, a Mexican national, presented her visitor’s visa.

The officer, Laura Nancy says, scarcely glanced at the documents—except for Yuliana’s. He examined her birth certificate and application receipt for a few moments, then ran the information on his computer. He was especially interested, the women would soon learn, in the person who registered Yuliana’s birth certificate—a once-popular midwife named Trinidad Saldivar.

Midwifery was once a cultural institution and an economic necessity for many along the border. Since the 1960s, the practice has almost disappeared as regulations for midwives, or parteras, have become more stringent—and as they were increasingly accused of falsely registering children of Mexican families as U.S. citizens. Until the early 1990s, Saldivar was one of the most sought-out parteras along both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. Following an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (as it was then called), Saldivar was one of more than a dozen Valley midwives accused of falsifying birth certificates. Some pleaded guilty—to avoid, they said, serving prison time. No one was asked which records they had been paid to forge and which were authentic, making it nearly impossible to determine which children had been delivered in the United States and which had not. Saldivar was never convicted, but her name was tarnished in the process—at least in the eyes of the U.S. government, which included her in a list of more than 230 “suspicious” midwives.

Maybe her name registered that morning with Officer Cabrera. But he appeared to be convinced from the start that the document was false, Yuliana has since stated in legal filings. He asked questions but ignored the answers, she says. He confiscated all four passengers’ documents, directed them out of traffic, and referred them for further inspection. What happened then, Yuliana’s mother says, “I would not wish on anyone.”

The three womens’ court statements tell the same story. They were taken into separate rooms and held for 11 hours. They were interrogated, mocked, harassed, and threatened with deportation or imprisonment—all, they say, to persuade them to sign confessions saying they held fraudulent documents. They were offered neither food nor water. Their requests to call for help or speak to relatives who’d come to the international bridge to look for them were denied. A cousin who wanted to see them was spirited away by officers, the sisters say.

“It was as if we had been kidnapped,” says the mother, Trinidad Muraira de Castro.

“I was so scared,” says Laura Nancy. “No one knew what was happening to us.”

Yuliana remembers hearing her baby, Camila, cry uncontrollably outside in the lobby while an officer interrogated her. She insisted she was born in Brownsville, as the certificate said. Her citizenship had never before been questioned, she told the officer, and if permitted, she could retrieve more documentation, including her mother’s blood work from a Brownsville hospital after Yuliana’s birth. In that icy little room, none of that mattered. “The officer continued harassing me, yelling at me, and telling me that I was Mexican and that he was going to deport me,” Yuliana, then 25, wrote in her statement. “After a while, I realized I had no way out since he told me no matter what I did, to him I was Mexican.”

It was all too much for her mother. Trinidad says she was grilled at length about falsified birth certificates she had indeed obtained for Laura Nancy and Yuliana when they were children—certificates saying they were Mexican citizens so they could attend school in Matamoros. Out of fear and exhaustion, she says, Trinidad signed a confession saying she had falsely registered her daughters as born in the United States.

That was that. By the time Trinidad, her daughters, and granddaughter were released, the sky was dark. Their entry documents had been taken away, and the Castro sisters were stranded in Mexico. What began as a “routine” return home to Brownsville had turned into a nightmare—one that would stretch over months, landing the Castros in a protracted legal battle and separating family members in Mexico and the United States.

They were not, they soon learned, alone. The Castros have filed suit in federal court against Customs and Border Protection. Their attorneys are seeking class-action status for the case, which could broaden its reach and have widespread implications along the border. The Castros’ experience last Aug. 24, their attorneys allege in court filings, was not an isolated incident, but a symptom of a systematic problem—a “window into the cases of dozens, if not hundreds, of similarly situated persons.” It’s also a window into the human costs associated with the U.S. government’s patchwork “crackdown” on illegal immigration.

Not long after the Castros were denied entry, a group of their U.S. relatives showed up at the Brownsville law office of Jaime Díez. An immigration attorney who has worked in the Valley for 12 years, Díez has become well known in the region for his pro bono immigration work, his strongly opinionated columns in a Mexican newspaper, and his weekly television commentaries on border and immigration issues for a Matamoros station. After he discussed the passport problem faced by U.S. residents returning from Mexico on one of his television spots, people started showing up at his studio.

Díez and other immigration attorneys in the Valley have heard of countless experiences similar to the Castros’. “Most people are totally unaware of this risk, which is why they fall into this trap,” says Lisa Brodyaga, who is working with Díez as a lead attorney on the Castro case. “We still do not know how often it is happening,” she says, because “when it happens to someone they end up in Mexico, cut off from access to counsel.”

Jessica Garcia, a Brownsville lab technician, was among those sent back to Matamoros without her legal documents. A few weeks later, after seeing Díez on TV, the 22-year-old Garcia and her mother went to the station to meet the attorney. She told him about her experience at a Brownsville international bridge on Halloween morning of last year—a morning that, she says, “changed everything, turned everything around for me.”

Two years earlier, Garcia’s husband had lost his U.S. work visa, and the family had moved back to Matamoros. Garcia kept her well-paying job at a Brownsville plasma center to support the family, which meant crossing daily through the port of entry.

Like the Castro sisters, Garcia had been delivered in Brownsville by midwife Trinidad Saldivar. Her mother, Ana Maria, remembers shopping in downtown Brownsville one day when she came across a colorful board on Saldivar’s front porch advertising her services. It was decked with a stork delivering a baby, she recalls. “Partera,” it read.

For Ana Maria, it seemed like a convenient way to have her baby in the United States and give her more opportunities. There was no need to commit fraud, she says. “If I had paid for a false document for Jessica,” she says, “I would have bought one for her older brother as well. But he is a Mexican citizen.”

On the ever-hardening line between the United States and Mexico, customs officials have long been accused of mistakenly detaining, deporting, or denying entry to U.S. citizens. Since a heightened security measure called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect last June, most of those targeted for interrogation at ports of entry, immigration attorneys like Díez say, have been U.S. citizens who present birth documents registered by midwives—people like Garcia and the Castro sisters, born in U.S. homes, not hospitals. (See “Locked Out”)

The new mandate requires U.S. citizens to present passports, passport cards, or other “initiative-compliant” documents when crossing from Mexico by land. Even before it was implemented, the requirement brought to light a series of complications faced by people born with the assistance of midwives. For years, the U.S. State Department had been rejecting passport applications from people whose births were attended by midwives, citing the forgery convictions. The issue came to widespread attention two years ago, when an increasing number of border residents began requesting passports to comply with the new travel-security measures.

Immigration attorneys say they began to see a stream of cases in which the U.S. State Department sent applicants in bureaucratic loops, asking them to provide all sorts of supplementary proof of citizenship—including newspaper birth announcements and high-school yearbook photos. Rejected applicants included children, senior citizens, U.S. military veterans and federal employees. The process was so arbitrary, says Díez, that some siblings in the same family would get their passports while others were denied. The Castros were a case in point: While Laura Nancy received her passport within weeks of applying, Yuliana had been asked to provide additional proof of citizenship—and was still waiting when she was denied entry last August.

In a class-action lawsuit against the State Department, the ACLU and immigration attorneys representing citizens whose applications had been rejected claimed that the department had “adopted a blanket suspicion toward one group of passport applicants.” In a settlement last year, the department agreed to initiate new procedures and training for officials taking passport applications. The settlement helped some, but many others’ requests remain in limbo, says Díez. Customs officers at ports of entry, like the ones who sent Garcia and the Castros back to Mexico, are not bound by the agreement.

“These are issues that should be handled in a courtroom, not the port of entry, where people do not have access to counsel, nor their constitutional rights,” Díez says. For many U.S. citizens still awaiting passports, border checkpoints are where their fates are decided, with customs officers serving as judge and jury.

Citing ongoing legal proceedings, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials declined to comment about their procedures. Eddie Perez, public affairs liaison for ports of entry in Brownsville, would not say much, either. “CBP officials are not at liberty to discuss any cases under litigation,” he told the Observer. Perez said the issues can be difficult for customs officers to deal with. “We try to cover every base. We want to make sure every person we process is clear to enter,” he said. “Sometimes that process is long; sometimes it is short.”

For Yuliana and Laura Nancy Castro, the process has been long. Since their ordeal at the international bridge, a federal judge has granted the sisters permission to re-enter the United States, where they live with their husbands. But they can no longer visit their mother and extended family in Matamoros. Christmas and New Year’s were gloomy holidays, they say, spent around the dinner table in Laura Nancy’s Brownsville apartment, cut off from the celebrations of their Mexican family. Their mother is depressed, family members say, and has trouble eating. The separation has been especially tough on Laura Nancy, who was pregnant when she was denied entry and last month gave birth to a daughter. “My mother has not seen the baby,” she says, “only photos my husband has taken of her.”

Her husband and 3-year-old son, Polo, can still visit Trinidad Castro. Laura Nancy has trouble explaining to Polo why she can’t accompany them. “I tell Polo, ‘I can’t go. I am going to the doctor.’ I am always at the doctor,” she says.

Her son does not understand. Her teenage niece does. She planned to have her quinceañera this month. The coming-of-age ceremony is held on a girl’s 15th birthday. Her niece, Elvira Alexandra, had a band and dance hall booked in Matamoros, but she doesn’t want to have the party without her aunts, whom she calls her second mothers.

“Now the date is open,” says the girl’s mother, Maribel Ramirez de Castro. “It may seem like little changes, but they really affect your life.”

Jazmine Ulloa is a staff reporter for The Brownsville Herald.

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ALAMO, Texas (AP) — The citizenship of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who insist they are Americans is being called into question because they were delivered by midwives near the U.S.-Mexico border. The federal government’s doubts have arisen as many people in the border region try to meet a June 1 deadline to obtain U.S. passports so they can freely cross from one country to the other.

The people delivered by midwives have documents such as birth certificates and medical records. But the agency that grants passports is challenging the credibility of those papers, citing a history of some midwives fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American.

The passport applications being questioned include those of children of Mexican women who crossed the border to give birth in the United States, and even employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency who were born on the border and now work to protect it.

The government has “effectively reduced to second-class citizenship status an entire swath of passport applicants based solely on their being of Mexican or Latino descent and having been delivered by midwives in nonhospital settings in Southwestern border states,” according to a federal lawsuit against the State Department filed last year in the border town of McAllen, about 120 miles south of Corpus Christi.

Immigration attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union hope to have the case certified as a class action because they believe thousands of people could be affected, with most still living near the border.

Since 1960, 75 Texas midwives have been convicted of fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American. At one point, the government assembled a list of nearly 250 “suspicious” midwives but never explained what made them suspicious.

State Department spokesman Andy Laine declined to comment because of the litigation. The agency also declined to release statistics on passport application refusals.

After June 1, anyone re-entering the United States from Mexico or Canada will have to show a passport, not just a driver’s license and birth certificate, which are the only current requirements.

For families who have lived in the area for generations, the border is just a river in the middle of one community. Many people live on one side of the border and work on the other.

“Going back and forth is as natural for them … as going across town is for the rest of us,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU in Texas.

If the lawsuit is not resolved before June 1, families “will have to choose if you’re going to live in Mexico or you’re going to live in the U.S. You won’t be able to cross,” said Lisa Brodyaga, the immigration attorney who filed the lawsuit against the State Department.

Anna Karen Ramirez had to sue the State Department to get her passport, even though she had a birth certificate, medical records and receipts from her 1989 birth at a clinic in Hidalgo, just south of McAllen. She also had signatures of two police officers who witnessed the event.

Ramirez’s parents lived in Mexico and raised their daughter there. But they decided to have their child in the United States.

With the deadline looming, and the State Department suspicious of her citizenship, the family met several times with U.S. consular officials to obtain a passport, but their request was refused.

Ramirez’s father, Narciso, drives a taxi back and forth across the border every day. He said he was warned that the family’s dogged pursuit of the matter could threaten the visa that allowed him to operate his cab.

Anna Ramirez sued, and while waiting, voted unchallenged in the U.S. presidential election. A month later, she received her passport but never got a clear statement of citizenship.

“Every 10 years she’s going to have to prove she’s a U.S. citizen” to renew her passport, said her attorney, Naomi Jiyoung Bang.

The State Department practices are “a holdover from an older, less-regulated world,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more restrictive immigration laws. “It’s what happens when modern standards collide with old country practices.”

Krikorian said the government cannot just believe everyone, nor can it turn down everyone delivered by a midwife.

Because Ramirez is young, her parents were able to find documents the government requested. The midwife who delivered her was still alive and able to testify. They could also afford to hire an attorney to help.

David Hernandez had a harder time locating evidence.

He was born in San Benito, Texas, in 1964, to a Mexican mother who was visiting friends when she went into labor. Hernandez was delivered by a midwife who appeared on the suspicious midwife list, though without a conviction. He returned to Mexico with his mother.

The two moved back to the U.S. a few years later. He attended schools in Texas and served in the Army.

In response to government requests, he collected mounds of documentation including papers from his military service, immunization and baptismal records, and witness affidavits. When he requested his school records, he was told that his elementary school papers no longer existed.

In April 2008, the government refused his passport application.

“I was born here,” he said last fall when the ACLU took on the case. “I’ve lived and worked here and served in the Army. I feel betrayed, like my country is stabbing me in the back just because my mother didn’t have the luxury of having me in a hospital.”

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