Thursday, August 14, 2008

I said, where were you born, boy?

Recently, our firm was retained by a client who, though having been born, raised and living his entire life in Austin, Texas, was having difficulty obtaining a certified copy of his birth certificate from the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Because he could not get a copy of his birth certificate, he was unable to also get a passport, something that any U.S. resident should be able to do freely.

At first blush, this client's problem seemed to be merely a misunderstanding and would be easily resolved with a couple of phone calls. My first impression was wrong. As a result of the events of September 11, 2001, and the collective response to those events, including passage of the Patriot Act, the "war" on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc., life for most of us has become ridiculously complicated.

Even though our client had a signed court order from the 1950's declaring who he was, who his parents were, and where he was born, the Bureau of Vital Statistics refused to issue a birth certificate based on the order because the agency did not regard the court's order as authoritative or binding on the agency. When pressed, the agency said that they were actually doing our client a favor in that even if the agency did issue the birth certificate we requested, the U.S. Department of State would likely not issue a passport to our client based on the fact that he was born at home and the original birth certificate application filed on his behalf was filed by a midwife, or a partera as they are known as Mexican-American culture.

Apparently, according to the Wall Street Journal, our client is not the only American having trouble getting the Bush Administration and the U.S. Department of State to act like "civil" servants. It seems that in the early 1990s, dozens of midwives along the Texas border were convicted of forging U.S. birth certificates for about 15,000 children born in Mexico as far back as the 1960s. As a result, the U.S. government no longer trusts that anyone born in southwest Texas who was delivered by a midwife is an American citizen. In such cases, the government demands additional proof -- a demand that has applicants scouring school warehouses and church offices to document their pasts.

Is it indignity enough that anyone has to endure their own government denying their individual citizenship. Imagine trying to prove that you are who you say you are without a birth certificate! If you are suffering at the hands of the U.S. Department of State as many others apparently are, don't remain silent. Let someone know that this kind of behavior by one's own government is completely unacceptable.

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