Texas Denies Immigrant Children Their U.S. Citizenship

Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP

Birthright citizenship is a hotly debated topic. The United States and Canada are one of the few nations that automatically grant citizenship so expansively to children born within their borders. Anyone born in the U.S. is considered an American citizen regardless of whether the parents are U.S. citizens, legal residents, temporary visitors, or illegal immigrants in the U.S.  

For quite some time, Congress has debated whether the idea of bestowing U.S. citizenship to all children born here is an outdated concept that should be done away with. Critics of birthright citizenship argue that the granting of citizenship to all children born in the U.S. incentivizes illegal immigration, anchor babies, and birth tourism. As Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte remarked during a congressional hearing on the issue, “the questions of whether our forefathers meant for birthright citizenship in all circumstances to be the law of the land is far from settled…In any event, we must still determine if it is the right policy for America today.”

But while the rest of country continues the debate, the State of Texas, a longtime advocate of state’s rights, has made a unilateral decision to deny the children of undocumented immigrants their U.S. citizenship. Specifically, it appears that when non-citizen women have requested birth certificates for their children at the state’s vital statistics offices, the vital statistics employees have refused to issue birth certificates unless the women were able to present their foreign passports with a current U.S. visa. The fact that (i) Texas law allows the use of a foreign identification in such instances if the mother lacks a Texas driver’s license or a U.S. passport, or (ii) the denial of U.S. citizenship to someone born in the U.S. presents a potential constitutional violation seemed to be of no consequence.  Not to mention that there instances where an individual could legitimately be in the U.S. without the need for a visa stamp.

Not surprisingly, on June 11, 2015, four women filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services for constitutional discrimination and interference in the federal government’s authority over immigration.  Putting the legal implications aside, the denial of birth certificates to the children of undocumented parents presents real problems for the affected families. Without birth certificates, families are unable to (i) enroll their children in school or daycare, (ii) authorize treatment in cases of a medical emergency, or (iii) prove they are the child’s family. So while the rest of the country continues to debate the relevancy and constitutional implications of birthright citizenship, it appears that Texas has decided the debate for its residents.  As the cliché says, Texas does things their way.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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