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Some Birth Certificates Issued, But Battle Continues

At least nine undocumented immigrant families have obtained Texas birth certificates for their U.S.-born children recently, but the trickle has done little to quell a monthslong legal battle over the state's strict policies on issuing the documents.

In a federal lawsuit filed in May, several undocumented families accused the Texas Health and Human Services Commission of violating the Constitutional rights of their children born in the United States by denying them the document.

More families have joined the lawsuit as it wends its way through court, but some plaintiffs have obtained the documents lately. 

“A lot of [the success] has just been us putting pressure on the state. I could not tell you [the total number of plaintiffs] offhand because we’re changing all the time,” said Jim Harrington, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project representing some of the families. “The other thing that has happened is that [the families] have been able to find another relative that qualifies, like a grandparent for example.”

The nine successful families have asked to withdraw from the lawsuit. While Attorney General Ken Paxton's office won't discuss the case, in court filings his attorneys point to the families as evidence that the system is not as rigid as the lawsuit claims. They say they want to depose the parents to determine how they obtained the certificates.

“The actual experiences of the nine parent Plaintiffs who now want ‘out’ of the suit confirm this flexibility of the rule and in so doing substantially undermine a core premise of the claims of the remaining Plaintiffs,” the state argued in a recent court filing.

The lawsuit was triggered when the health commission ordered county registrars to tighten their rules on the forms of identification they would accept from parents seeking certificates. 

Previously, the suit claims, IDs including the Mexican Consular ID (called the matrícula consular) and passports from Central American countries were accepted in some parts of Texas.

But in 2013, the state barred those more common forms of ID, and began requiring others that are difficult for undocumented immigrants to obtain. As part of a 2013 phone campaign, the state “ordered the [county] offices to halt the acceptance of consular identification and foreign passports, but also ordered them and/or encouraged them to harshly scrutinize all applications by undocumented immigrant parents,” according to a recent court filing.

The practice, attorneys for the families argue, has resulted in a “policy, pattern and practice” of preventing parents with at least one acceptable foreign ID card and additional supporting documents from obtaining birth certificates for their children.

In October, attorneys for the families asked U. S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman to order the state to find a temporary solution as the case proceeds through the courts. But he denied that request and ordered the case to proceed to trial, scheduled for Dec. 12.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/25/birth-certificate-suit-moves-forward-after-some-pa/.

The Texas Tribune is nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization.