While the 14th Amendment grants U.S. citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” Texas health officials have been refusing to issue birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. On Friday, a district judge ruled that they can continue to withhold the vital documents.
In May 2015, a group of immigrant families filed a lawsuit against the state because it refuses to issue birth certificates to their citizen children. In August, the group petitioned the court for an emergency injunction in hopes of getting immediate relief while awaiting trial. But on Friday, Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) does not have to accept foreign passports without U.S. visas or any other identification documents issued by the Mexican government. Since 2013, the department has maintained that those documents are not valid for establishing the identities of children and their parents.
The families argued that withholding birth certificates compromises children’s rights to health care, education and social welfare programs, and make travel, childcare and even baptism difficult. While Judge Pittman decided that the plaintiffs did establish that depriving children of birth certificates takes away many of their citizenship rights, he wrote in his opinion that there was not enough evidence to grant an injunction.
In summary, although the Plaintiffs have provided evidence which raises grave concerns regarding the treatment of citizen children born to immigrant parents, 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 raised in this case. … In fact, the evidence establishes Defendants have a compelling governmental interest in regulating with care the process of accessing birth certificates.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton supported the ruling via a statement:
Today’s ruling is 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. We will continue defending DSHS’s policy on safeguarding Texans’ most sensitive information and vital documents.
Jennifer Harbury, an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid who represents the families in the suit, said in a statement:
We appreciate the thoroughness of Judge Pitman’s considerations in denying the preliminary injunction and the serious issues involved. We also understand his decision to await a full trial upon all of the evidence before issuing an injunction on such a crucial matter. We worry, however, about the safety of many Texas children in the interim. Without their birth certificates they are having difficulty gaining access to basic services, including school and medical care.
The case will now proceed to trial.