Some Border Residents Get New Chance for Passports
June 26, 2009 - 3:21 PMHundreds of citizens along the U.S.-Mexico border whose applications for passports were banished to a bureaucratic black hole because their births were attended by midwives will be able to reapply.
The State Department settled a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration attorneys representing citizens whose passport applications were filed away without further action because the government suspected Texas midwives may have fraudulently registered Mexican births in the U.S.
The settlement, announced by the ACLU on Friday, awaits court approval.
Immigration attorneys, particularly in South Texas, began seeing a steady stream of cases where residents were asked to dig up all sorts of additional proof as passport authorities questioned their citizenship. The applicants ranged from senior citizens to children and even included employees of federal agencies.
Residents along the border were rushing to get passports for the first time in their lives to comply with a June 1 deadline requiring a passport or passport card rather than a driver's license to re-enter the country.
Since 1960, 75 Texas midwives have been convicted of fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American. At one point, the government assembled a list of nearly 250 "suspicious" midwives but never explained what made them suspicious.
Under the terms of the settlement, which both parties have signed, the State Department will have to come up with a legal justification for each midwife it puts on the list. Passport applicants delivered by those midwives may still be asked to present additional evidence of their citizenship, but there will be clearer guidelines.
"I think it's a very good and strong victory for a fairly small percentage of the people who are having problems," said South Texas immigration attorney Lisa Brodyaga, who filed the lawsuit.
Those who received letters stating their applications would be closed without further action will be able to reapply without a fee. Those who received outright denials can still reapply, but they will have to pay the fee.
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