A person born in the United States may have rights as a U.S. citizen, but state governments also have a right to deny the rights of U.S. citizens. At least that seems to be the gist of last Friday’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas.
Back in July a group of Mexican mothers sued the Texas Department of State Health Services Vital Statistics Unit for refusing to provide birth certificates for Texas-born children whose parents presented Matrículas Consulares, the ID cards issued by the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs to nationals living outside Mexico. In their defense, Texas officials offered evidence questioning the authenticity of the Matrícula, including statements from the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement. The Vital Statistics office are also refusing Mexican passports as a form of ID unless accompanied by a U.S. visa.
Matrículas and Mexican passports are undoubtedly the two most common forms of ID used by Mexican immigrants in the United States. The mothers were seeking an injunction from Judge Robert L. Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that would have forced the State of Texas to accept such forms of ID while the case worked its way through the courts.
Ultimately, the judge sided with the state’s right to preserve the authenticity of its official documents over the rights of U.S. citizens, namely the rights to travel and practice their religion freely, among other things. As Judge Pitman writes in his decision:
Based on the evidence presented by Plaintiffs, the Court concludes Plaintiffs have established, at a minimum, that deprivation of a birth certificate to the Plaintiff children results in deprivations of the rights and benefits which inure to them as citizens, as well as deprivations of their right to free exercise of religion by way of baptism and their right to travel. …
While the Court is very troubled at the prospect of Texas-born children, and their parents, being denied issuance of a birth certificate, as the evidence presented by Plaintiffs themselves establishes, a birth certificate is a vital and important document. As such, Texas has a clear interest in protecting access to that document.
It’s clear this case has less to do with the authenticity of government documents than with the unwanted presence of immigrants from particular countries of origin. Texas officials aren’t disregarding Matrículas Consulares and Mexican passports because the documents are foreign, but because they’re Mexican. Efrén Olivares, one of the attorneys representing the beleaguered families, has expressed his doubts that state officials would invalidate “a similar ID issued from Canada.” Personally, there is no doubt in my mind that the U.S.-born children of Canadian parents living in the state of Washington or Michigan would never suffer such an abuse of their citizenship rights.
And let’s put aside for a second the denial of rights. How must the Mexican government view its neighbor to the north treating Mexican-issued documents as though they were little more than a gym membership card? The Matrícula Consular is not something you receive in the mail by sending in three proofs of purchase of any Bimbo products. It’s as difficult to obtain as its U.S. counterpart: first-time applicants usually present original copies of their Mexican birth certificates and current Mexican passports, along with proofs of their residency in the United States. Yet even after all this, in the eyes of a Texas official, that little snake-eating eagle perched atop a cactus might as well be replaced with the words NULA Y SIN VALOR.
Far be it from me to remind a federal judge how democratic governments are supposed to function, but Pitman’s ruling fails to recognize one fundamental fact — that in a democracy, the state exists for its citizens, not the other way around. It’s grotesque to think that a state’s rights could supersede those of its citizens, more so that a state’s obligation to ensure the authenticity of its official documents could ever outweigh its supreme obligation to ensure the basic rights of its citizens. If that’s the case, then either Lincoln was wrong about the nature of democratic government, or our government has finally been overthrown by the government.
No matter how you look at it, something is seriously rotten in the state of Texas.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.