US cracking down on citizenship for hundreds of Hispanics along border: report

 

The Trump administration is reportedly accusing hundreds of Hispanics living along the U.S.-Mexico border of having fraudulent birth certificates, stripping some of their passports and throwing their citizenship into question.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that cases it examined and interviews with immigration attorneys suggest a dramatic shift in immigration enforcement and a decrease in the number of passports issued by the U.S.

The State Department disputed the report, saying the Trump administration has not increased passport denials and such cases have been common under multiple administrations.

The Post reported that some passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in detention facilities as they await immigration proceedings, while others have had their passports revoked when they tried to reenter the U.S.

The newspaper did not say exactly how many people the U.S. appears to be investigating for allegedly having fraudulent birth certificates. The Post reported that the administration “is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands.”

A State Department official told The Hill in a statement that the agency “has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications.”

"There are numerous reasons why a customer may be asked to provide additional documentation or information. The burden of proving one’s identity and citizenship falls on the applicant for a U.S. passport regardless of where the application was submitted," the official said.

The official said that "the U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud."

The U.S. government has alleged that fraud is sometimes perpetrated by midwives and other birth attendants who sell legal birth certificates to children born in Mexico.

"This fraud is often documented through convictions, plea agreements, and confessions by midwives, mothers, and other family members," the State Department official said.

According to The Post, the State Department under former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama investigated people who had been delivered by midwives in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley based on cases in the 1990s, including one in which a midwife pleaded guilty to selling Texas birth certificates to parents of children born in Mexico.

After the government settled a case involving the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009, the number of passport denials dropped off, the newspaper noted.

The Post reported that the government is now apparently denying passports to those it suspects of having fraudulent birth certificates at an increasing rate.

The newspaper said it based that reporting on a majority of cases it reviewed, with many passport applicants who had been delivered by midwives in South Texas making repeated requests for more documentation but never receiving formal denials. 

Still, the State Department maintained after The Post's report was published that the number of domestic passport denials was at the lowest rate in several years for midwife cases, with 28 percent of cases denied in 2017 compared to a peak of 36 percent under Obama in 2015.

The State Department official emphasized that "the standard for determining whether a person is entitled to a passport, regardless of whether the person was born in a home, hospital, or with the assistance of a doctor or midwife, is the same. The applicant must demonstrate through a preponderance of evidence that he or she was born in the United States."

"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," they added.

“Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport," the official said. "The Department’s determination in such cases affects only the passport, and not citizenship status, of the applicant."

– Editor's note: This story was updated Sept. 20 to reflect several updates and clarifications by The Post involving its original Aug. 29 story and additional figures released by the State Department.