A project of the Center for Community Change

Denying Passports, the New way to Disenfranchise

There have been many reports recently of Americans living near the US-Mexico border who have been denied passports and had their citizenship questioned. The majority of these people were delivered by midwives (a tradition that is widespread in many cultures) and therefore do not have a birth certificate like they would if they had been born in a hospital.

The most recent instance is decorated war veteran, David Hernandez, who was denied a passport after years of service to his country.

A class action lawsuit has been filed by residents (including Hernandez) and the ACLU:

In a lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the government is systematically discriminating against U.S.-born citizens on the basis of ethnicity and national origin. Attorneys for the plaintiff assert that such arbitrary bans disproportionately affect rural and poor people who have less access to doctors.

As Hernandez reports:

“This all started when I sent them (the U.S. State Department) my passport and they sent me a letter saying that it wasn’t sufficient. So, I sent them all kinds of documents -a baptismal certificate, military records, pictures of me in the pre-kindergarten, a copy of my grandmother’s birth certificate that showed that she was an American citizen,” he said, adding, “and that still wasn’t enough. I knew something was wrong when they even started asking me for things like Census documents from the 1930’s that don’t even exist.”

Hernandez and the other plaintiffs say that the U.S. government is denying them passports because they are persons of Mexican and Latino descent whose births were assisted by parteras, or midwives. “The law says that if you’re born in this country, have parents who are or who get naturalized, you are a citizen,” said Hernandez his voice cracking with anger and frustration. “We were all born here. We’re all citizens. The only difference is that we’re Hispanic, we grew up poor and we happened not to be born in a hospital. My mother had to pay a partera $40 instead.”

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