“Undocumented Citizens”

Joey Fishkin:

The Texas Department of State Health Services has created this new category of what I would call “undocumented citizens” by revising its interpretation of a comparatively obscure set of state regulations concerning what documents a parent needs to present in order to obtain a birth certificate for his or her child.  Under the new interpretation, two crucial documents that used to work to establish the parent’s identity—a photo identification card issued by the Mexican Consulate known as a “matricula consular,” and a Mexican passport that lacks a valid visa stamp—no longer count as valid identity documents.  A Department spokesperson argues in comments to news reporters that these documents are not “secure” and might be used for “fraud” or “identity theft.”  They offer no explanation for why the policy changed*—at least not in the news stories or anywhere else I have seen.

In a lawsuit being heard in federal district court today in Austin, a group of Mexican and Central American parents of U.S. citizen children are challenging the new policy, on various grounds including that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.  This is a tricky argument, because of course, these parents’ children are—in theory—definitely citizens, and DSHS does not argue otherwise.  But citizenship is of limited value if you can’t get the documents you need to prove it.

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