Immigration and citizenship rights have been polarizing topics since the United States was founded. Although the Obama administration has attempted executive action to help undocumented residents obtain citizenship, opponents have also resisted vigorously. Within this debate lies the issue of undocumented immigrants crossing the border illegally and having children in the U.S. who automatically become legal residents. In an effort to counter illegal immigration, stricter rules — such as requiring a plethora of documents to prove that a newborn’s parents are United States citizens — were implemented in Texas.
In 2013, Nancy Hernandez and about two dozen other undocumented mothers sued the state for refusing to issue their children’s birth certificates even though their babies were born in a Texas state medical facility. Then, in July of this year, the state of Texas agreed to a settlement requiring that birth certificate issuers accept a wider range of documents from those whose immigration status is still pending. As Efren Olivares, a prominent lawyer on the case, told the New York Times, “There was a category of people who were being locked out of obtaining a birth certificate to which they are entitled constitutionally as citizens born in the United States.”
Without a valid birth certificate, parents fear separation of their family in the case of deportation because there are no other documents to prove their relationship. Also, without birth certificates children cannot be vaccinated, baptized, or enrolled in schools. Each of these is a major violation of rights guaranteed under the established laws of the United States.
Despite the progress made by this settlement, the case highlights a crisis occurring in border states. When issuers have the power to determine a family’s future, certain checks and balances must be put in place to ensure that constitutional rights are being observed. Because Texas was allowed to get away with their prejudiced policies for three years, put families may have lost the chance to legally register their children as citizens of the United States, acquire vaccinations to keep their babies healthy or carry out the rites that allow children to enter a religion.
Even worse, there is a gray area in which parents of children born in the United States but outside of a medical facility may have difficulty proving their baby was actually born in the country. For mothers who could not make it to a hospital, their children could grow up without citizenship in any country.
Border states are government entities that have a sworn responsibility to protect the rights of everyone born on their land and ensure just execution of laws. They should not arbitrarily dodge rules because of disagreement with how immigrants may have entered the country.
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Email Connor Borden at [email protected]