By Linda Vega
Being an American citizen is one of the most powerful manifestations of our constitutional tradition as a nation and as a government. The constitutional rights and obligations reserved strictly for citizens have made many want to die to protect our nation, because they know that as citizens they have unalienable rights. However, the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama Administration is now stripping American citizens of their citizenship. More importantly, these attacks are aimed at a population: elder Latino Texans who were too poor to go to a county hospital and opted, instead, to use a midwife because there was no hospital in the poor rural areas of Texas. As a result, the Obama Administration is now incarcerating and stripping some seniors of their citizenship because they are unable to “properly” prove their birth occurred on U.S. soil.
According to immigration attorney Jaime Diez, along the Rio Grande River in Texas, there are cases where Elderly Latinos have to relinquish their U.S. Citizenship because they cannot provide enough evidence to substantiate their birth on U.S. soil by either a hospital or a credible midwife.
Prior to 2009, a few cases of maybe 20-30 would arise where elderly Latinos had to produce evidence of their U.S. Citizenship if the crossed the border or obtained a passport. Usually a baptismal record or a birth certificate would suffice to prove their citizenship birth in the U.S. However, since the the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, (“WHTI”), which came into full force and effect on June 1, 2009, changes implemented under this new law, have caused overzealous U.S. agents and officers to question and oftentimes hold “alleged” illegal seniors for hours until they relinquish their status. The Federal Government takes the time to litigate case after case that seeks to strip U.S. Citizenship from Latinos and these cases now number over 1000.
With only limited exceptions, WHTI makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to “depart from or enter the United States” without a valid U.S. passport. 8 U.S.C. §1185(b); 22 C.F.R. §53.1(a). While this may be a necessary application of law, for a group of people who did not have the conveniences of modern day hospitals or record keeping when they were born, it has become a nightmare and a loss of identity.
Long before there was a dispute regarding the demarcated boundary that separates the U.S. and Mexico, descendants of Mexicans lived along the border on the U.S. side for years without fear of having to leave their country of choice. When Texas became the 28th state under the Presidency of Polk in 1845, those who lived along the border were annexed into the U.S. Additionally, when the two countries were unwilling to reach a compromise as to where the boundary would be set, the Mexican-American war broke out on April 25, 1846. The result of that war fixed the southern boundary between the two countries at the Rio Grande River.
For generations, the people living along the Rio Grande River could travel into Mexico where their relatives were left in their undisturbed Mexican residency. The ones living to the north of the Rio Grande River were granted U.S. Citizenship. Yet, it was a matter of convenience and understanding, that those U.S. Citizens who were instantly acquiesced into the U.S. territory had travel privileges back and forth between the two countries. In the years that followed, children were born through midwives and clinics who would record the births as credible state records. In 1925, more than 50 percent of babies born in Texas were delivered by midwives. However, by 2004, the number had dropped to 6.6%. Much of the change was brought about because as rural areas integrated into the larger cities, more clinics into the area, many along the border were receiving more prenatal care and healthcare during births.
The earliest known hospital in the valley was in Harlingen, Valley Baptist Medical Center, founded in 1925. Surrounded by rural areas and colonias, the hospital is at least a 25 mile distance to these areas. At present it is not uncommon for women to give birth to children in clinics or hospitals as these facilities are not as scarce as previous years prior to 1950. The births were not the problem, it was an industry norm for registering births that had unintended consequences on what the government is now terming, “delayed birth certificate” fraud.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), many of these births recorded by midwives, are either fraudulent or not legal as they were not recorded according to standards. Those affected by this new application of law, now find themselves having to defend their birth certificate and passports granted to them by the U.S. State Department. Additionally, those affected are between the ages of 60 and older born in the 1940-50s. This is the age group that is most affected as they were more likely to be born by the assistance of a midwife and at home.
While Texas is approximately 25 million in total, it is populated by a large Latino community in the rural areas, and in South Texas where about 90% of the total population is Latino.
Texas and South Texas Population by Ethnicity, 2007
When broken down into the counties most affected by the passport requirement see the following:
|Cameron County||Population 406,220||Over 65 years of age 11.1%||Latino 88.1%|
|Hidalgo County||Population 774, 769||Over 65 years of age 9.3%||Latino 90.6%|
|Starr County||Population 60,968||Over 65 years of age 10.3%||Latino 95.7%|
|Webb County||Population 250,304||Over 65 years of age 7.8%||Latino 95.7%|
Consequently, immigration attorneys in the Rio Grande Valley have noticed that these cases requiring elderly Latinos to prove their citizenship has spiked within the last two years. Attorney Jaime Diez states that over 1000 cases have been reported but many more are not for the sake of keeping the peace. However, these are only the cases of those with financial resources to fight DHS, or USCIS in court, many more surrender their citizenship fearing a long battle in a court that is estimated to cost between $15,000 to $20,000. Many of the elderly, living on a fixed income cannot imagine this long battle or the expense, and instead relinquish their U.S. Citizenship and leave for Mexico, a land not their home.
Immigration Attorneys, like Diez, in the Rio Grande Valley accept the cases on a pro bono capacity, but have been overwhelmed recently with unnecessary discovery requests by the government and oftentimes face over 5 U.S. attorneys for a simple case of birth certificate verification. In one such case, Diez in Brownsville, states that five U.S. Attorneys were flown in from Washington D.C. to appear in Federal District Court to ask a woman questions regarding her childhood in the Valley. The U.S. Attorneys asked to be taken to the many places the woman played as a child and other places where she and her brother remembered family gatherings. This was not only inefficient use of government money and resources, it provided little if any comfort thinking that securing the border means stripping Latinos of their U.S. Citizenship rather than apprehending those who are “terrorists” in all aspects at the border crossing.
In 2008, Obama promised Latinos change. Unfortunately, one of these promised changes includes having to lose your birthright identity because you were born at a time when a system was inefficient and antiquated. According to the present Obama policies, if you were born in 1950 and before, you are expendable in the U.S. Your absence, along the Rio Grande Valley where you have lived most of your life, will be overlooked. According to this Administration, Latinos have an apathy and will not participate in elections, and so invalid deportations and stripping on U.S. Citizenship will go unnoticed because no one will dare to speak up to this injustice. It is a quiet secret that many will chose to ignore. But Latinos are strong in family ideals and are compassionate protectors for the less fortunate. And now that many do know about what is happening to the elderly along the border, I hope that this Administration is placed on alert to immediately cease and desist this action. It is a shameful way to protect the border, and frankly this behavior is anything but American or decent, it is Mr. President, monstrous.