Democrats in Congress are now demanding that hearings be held into the Trump administration’s policy of denying U.S. passports to Americans of Hispanic descent who reside near the U.S.-Mexico border. They also want the hearings to dig into the details concerning the actions of federal officials at the border who are now questioning the citizenship of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Americans.
Members of Congress from Texas said the federal government’s actions that were reported in The Washington Post on Wednesday, are evidence of a systemic anti-Hispanic bias. According to these congressmen this bias is what guides the administration’s immigration policy. They also suggested that they would soon introduce legislation in Congress that will address the policy.
“This represents an unacceptable targeting of people based on their ethnic heritage. It violates the Constitution. It should be investigated by Congress in both chambers, and we should take action to stop it as soon as possible through legislation if necessary,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.).
But GOP leaders in the House and Senate are not likely to give in to the Democrats’ demands for new legislation on the issue.
Under the new policy, the U.S. State Department has started to deny passports to many people who possess official U.S. birth certificates that state they were born in South Texas. The government policy is based on the allegation that midwives and some doctors in the border region provided fraudulent birth certificates to babies who were actually born in Mexico. Some of those birth attendants pleaded guilty to fraud in the 1990’s, adding more weight to the government’s argument.
The same midwives and doctors now accused of fraud delivered tens of thousands of babies in Texas who were lawful U.S. citizens. Decades later it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the very small number of fraudulent birth certificates and the very large number of legal ones. As a result, many U.S. military veterans, Border Patrol agents and even police officers now must prove that they were actually born in the United States.
The policy of targeting people with birth certificates signed by midwives was in existence under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. In 2009 the U.S. government reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union that appeared to resolve the issue, but it now being revived by the Trump administration.
Lawyers along the border say the number of passport denials declined during the last year of the Obama administration, but now under the Trump administration, the number of denials has risen and the government has made it very hard for local residents to receive their passports. In fact for many citizens their only recourse now is suing the State Department. This of course is very expensive and even impracticable for for many Hispanic Americans whose citizenship is now being questioned.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has expressed his agreement with the State Department’s concerns about fraudulent birth certificates.
“It is important to ensure that the rights of all U.S. citizens are respected and protected, while also preventing fraud by people who are not in our country legally,” Cruz said. “If U.S. citizens are being denied their passports, that needs to stop. But if someone is not a U.S. citizen, then their passport request should be denied.”
The State Department issued a statement saying “The U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.” But this statement did not eliminate concerns of the congressional Democrats.
“The idea that because some few people falsified documents has created a presumption that all documents issued in a region are to be questioned is like saying someone is guilty until proven innocent,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.). “I plan to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to utilize our powers of congressional oversight and end these unwarranted actions that have gone on for far too long.”
Other members of Congress agreed that there should be hearings on the topic.
“We’re challenging citizens of the U.S. who have been citizens of this country for years and have gotten a passport in years past,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). “There’s no basis saying they’re violating security. I’m going to ask for hearings to be held on the Judiciary Committee and immigration subcommittee on homeland security.”
“I am really concerned about this. It is another telltale sign of the administration trying to block legal immigration and citizens just because they happen to be Hispanic or Muslim, and that’s tragic and that’s not America,” she said.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.