Debate over the nation’s broken immigration system is certain to grow hotter as presidential campaign season approaches. So get ready for lots of inflammatory terminology like “anchor babies” to describe aspects of immigration policy that hard-liners find particularly odious.
Despite all the complaining, birthright citizenship is unlikely to change as a bedrock constitutional right in this country. The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, states unequivocably: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
A child born on American soil is a U.S. citizen, regardless of the parent’s immigration status. In Texas, however, the Department of State Health Services appears to be creating bureaucratic roadblocks that violate some children’s constitutional rights.
The state now faces a lawsuit in federal court filed on behalf of 23 children who, according to their Mexican parents, are U.S.-born but have been denied the birth certificates they need to enroll in school, obtain Social Security numbers and exercise other rights as citizens.
One plaintiff parent, Maria Isabel Perales Serna, says she fled an abusive marriage in Mexico years ago. Her first U.S.-born child, now 14, received all of the necessary certification from the state. But when Perales sought the same documentation for her second child last November, the state imposed much stricter policies that effectively blocked the child from getting a birth certificate.
Perales presented both a matricula and Mexican passport when trying to obtain a birth certificate for her newborn, but the State Health Services office in McAllen said it would no longer accept either. Her passport had no visa.
Similar circumstances prevailed in the other 22 cases. At issue, according to state officials, is the validity of the identification process used by Mexican consulates to verify that the parents are who they say they are.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenges the lawsuit on largely technical grounds relating to state vs. federal jurisdiction, but he avoids addressing the substance of the plaintiffs’ complaint. It seems clear that officials are testing a backdoor way to enforce their preferred immigration policy and deny birthright citizenship by erecting insurmountable bureaucratic barriers.
If Texas doesn’t believe Mexico applies stringent enough background checks to verify the parents’ identities, then the state should specify where the weaknesses exist so Mexico can correct them. But to simply reverse longstanding birth-certificate policies and establish unilateral procedures aimed at a specific group of immigrants seems discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Gov. Greg Abbott recently affirmed this state’s longstanding friendship and business ties during a visit by Mexico’s foreign secretary. The state’s actions with these new policies are nothing less than a slap in the face.
Who’s a citizen?
In addition to the 14th Amendment, federal law identifies a person who should be granted citizenship at birth as someone:
Born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction.
Born in the United States to a [native] aboriginal tribe.
Of unknown parentage found in the United States while under age 5 — unless shown before age 21 not to have been born in the United States.
Born in an outlying U.S. possession of parents, one of whom is a U.S. citizen who has resided on U.S. soil for a continuous period of one year at any time prior to that birth.