A federal judge has refused to stop Texas from withholding the birth certificates of children born in the U.S. to mothers who are illegal immigrants. But he has also called for a full court hearing to determine if the civil rights of these newest U.S. citizens are being violated by the policy.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s ruling that the Texas Department of State Health Services can continue denying birth certificates to “undocumented” immigrant families’ U.S.-born babies if their identification doesn’t meet Texas standards “an important first step in ensuring the integrity of birth certificates and personal identity information.”
“Before issuing any official documents, it’s important for the state to have a way to accurately verify people are who they say they are through reliable identification mechanisms,” Paxton said in a statement his office released following Judge Pitman’s ruling.
The Texas Department of State Health Services refuses to recognize some forms of identification offered by illegal-immigrant families including the identification cards known as “matriculas consulares” that are issued by Mexican consulates.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case, La Union del Pueblo Entero — which represents illegal immigrants and other low-wage workers in the Rio Grande Valley — and an illegal immigrant, Maria Isabel Perales Serna, argued the identification policy violated the rights of the babies who are born to illegal immigrants in the United States.
They wanted Pitman to issue a temporary emergency injunction that would block the Texas birth certificate policy because the babies, since they were born in the United States, were lawful citizens no matter the status of their parents.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also argued there was a harm associated with that foul. By denying the children birth certificates, the attorneys contended Texas officials were effectively barring the newborns from later admission to public schools, and were preventing them from taking advantage of social welfare programs.
The attorneys argued the lack of a birth certificate could even mean these children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants might not be able to be baptized.
The suit was originally filed in May on behalf of four Rio Grande Valley women, who are illegal immigrants, after they were denied copies of their U.S.-born children’s birth certificates.
It became immediately apartment that this was not just a legal tiff between advocates of illegal immigrants and the state of Texas. It also had international significance.
Mexico filed a friend of the court brief in the case. The lawsuit was also mentioned as a possible bone of contention in Labor Day weekend talks between Texas Gov. Jim Abbott and Mexican officials that were conducted last September.
Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, the Mexican consul general in Austin, Texas, told reporters the case was significant to his country because withholding birth certificates could have “detrimental consequences.”
Judge Pitman made it clear this was not an easy decision to make.
Pitman wrote that he felt the pain of the parents who had been refused copies of their children’s birth certificates. He described their case as “heartfelt, compelling and persuasive.”
But Pitman also said Attorney General Paxton’s argument that Texas had an overwhelming interest in protecting the integrity of birth certificates as legal documents was valid.
“A birth certificate is a vital and important document,” Pittman wrote. “It begs credulity for defendants to argue a birth certificate is not a vitally important document. The rights and privileges of citizenship inure to those who are citizens.”
Pitman also questioned the veracity of the identification issued by Mexican consulates.
However, Pitman also wrote in his 27-page decision that the case should not be settled with his Oct. 16 decision. He said it deserves a full court hearing.
“In summary, although the plaintiffs have provided evidence which raises grave concerns regarding the treatment of citizen children born to immigrant parents,” Pitman wrote, “this case requires additional determinations which can be made only upon development and presentation of an evidentiary record which thoroughly explores the facts and circumstances of the issues.”
Advocates for illegal immigrants said they look forward to that full court hearing.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Dallas Morning News it is likely that more plaintiffs will be added to the case for the next step in the legal process.
Harrington also said the judge’s denial of emergency injunctive relief was actually a positive development for the plaintiffs.
“There are areas where he wants more proof about what happened to the plaintiffs,” Harrington said. “Basically, he laid out a road map of what he wants to see at trial before he makes his final decision.”
If there is a full court hearing, Paxton left no doubt as to where the office of Attorney General in Texas would stand.
“We will continue defending DSHS’s policy on safeguarding Texans’ most sensitive information and vital documents.”