Extending its fight against immigration generally, whether or not it is lawful, there are now signs the administration is trying aggressively to strip existing citizenship rights, and the privileges that go with them, from entire classes of people based on, well, being Hispanic and having been born near the U.S.-Mexico border. The Washington Post has the alarming story:
The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown on their citizenship …
In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.
The saga in part seems to go back to evidence that arose in the 1990s that some midwives and physicians in Texas were fraudulently issuing birth certificates for babies actually born in Mexico. In part because of how incredibly difficult it was to identify such cases among the far greater number of babies delivered by the same people in entirely legitimate circumstances, most litigation over this issue ended in 2009. But then Donald Trump became president:
Under President Trump, the passport denials and revocations appear to be surging, becoming part of a broader interrogation into the citizenship of people who have lived, voted and worked in the United States for their entire lives …
In its statement, the State Department said that applicants “who have birth certificates filed by a midwife or other birth attendant suspected of having engaged in fraudulent activities, as well as applicants who have both a U.S. and foreign birth certificate, are asked to provide additional documentation establishing they were born in the United States.”
“Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport,” the statement said.
What this basically means is that actual U.S. citizens suddenly bear the burden of proving their legitimacy under pain of losing their passports or facing deportation. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare with teeth, as evidenced by the case of a military veteran born in Texas who had been a Border Patrol agent and was simply applying for a routine passport renewal:
[He] received a letter from the State Department telling him it wasn’t convinced that he was a U.S. citizen; it requested a range of obscure documents — evidence of his mother’s prenatal care, his baptismal certificate, rental agreements from when he was a baby.
He managed to find some of those documents but weeks later received another denial. In a letter, the government said the information “did not establish your birth in the United States.”
“I thought to myself, you know, I’m going to have to seek legal help,” said [the man], who earns $13 an hour as a prison guard and expects to pay several thousand dollars in legal fees.
Some cases are even worse:
In a case last August, a 35-year-old Texas man with a U.S. passport was interrogated while crossing back into Texas from Mexico with his son at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to McAllen, Tex.
His passport was taken from him, and Customs and Border Protection agents told him to admit that he was born in Mexico, according to documents later filed in federal court. He refused and was sent to the Los Fresnos Detention Center and entered into deportation proceedings.
He was released three days later, but the government scheduled a deportation hearing for him in 2019. His passport, which had been issued in 2008, was revoked.
American citizens are obviously not accustomed to having their citizenship questioned, particularly when the questions relate to circumstances of their births they have no reason to doubt. One lawyer for citizens being hassled in this manner tells the Post that many of his clients were being asked by government attorneys: “Do you remember when you were born?” They weren’t being funny.
Perhaps bad publicity stemming from this story will convince the administration to stop this un-American harassment of citizens based on their ethnic heritage and the particular place of their birth. But it’s like a game of whack-a-mole:
It’s difficult to know where the crackdown fits into the Trump administration’s broader assaults on legal and illegal immigration. Over the past year, it has thrown legal permanent residents out of the military and formed a denaturalization task force that tries to identify people who might have lied on decades-old citizenship applications.
Maybe Team Trump can be convinced to offer an immigration amnesty for American citizens. But that would probably stretch their powers of imagination or of compassion.