PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — Daniel and Teresa Jimenez looked forward to an October cruise to Canada. They decided to apply for their passports in June, so they would have plenty of time to prepare for their vacation. They headed to their local post office and quickly found themselves trapped in a real-life nightmare, essentially trying to prove Daniel’s American citizenship after a red flag was raised by his birth certificate.
The couple reached out to Congressman Bill Flores’ Office, a local immigration lawyer and several media outlets, including CNN, in a desperate attempt to find some type of recourse. After 12 weeks of uncertainty, the Army veteran finally received an email after business hours on Thursday that his passport application was processed, and he should expect his passport by September 12. The whole ordeal would normally take four to six weeks.
Daniel and Teresa learned of the news moments before meeting with Latino Rebels on Thursday evening. Before then, they were worried that Daniel, a third-generation Mexican American, would be deported from his own country. They said they know of other families dealing with similar experiences and are now making it their mission to advocate for more transparent guidelines of the passport application process.
According to a report by KVEO, there have been an increasing number of Latinos born in border towns and delivered by midwives from the 1950s to 1990s who have had issues attaining their passports. Daniel, who was not born in a border town, is just one of these cases.
The couple submitted their passport applications along with their birth certificates on June 29. Teresa, who is white and born in Illinois, had no problem getting her passport application approved.
“They didn’t like his birth certificate because he was born at home,” she explained. “His grandmother was a midwife but evidently there’s been a lot of fraudulent birth certificates done by midwives.”
There was a delay in registering Daniel’s birth certificate, which also raised a red flag.
Passport applicants like Daniel are automatically required to send in more documentation to prove the legitimacy of their citizenship at this point.
In the 1990s, the federal government prosecuted some midwives who were found helping to produce fraudulent birth certificates. The government entered a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009 that legally ensured its staff wouldn’t deny passports to Latinos based on being delivered by a midwife in a Texas border town.
Daniel was born in Seguin, a town located about 35 miles from downtown San Antonio, not a border town.
Realizing the burden of proof now fell on them, the longtime wedded couple sent in Daniel’s baptismal certificate, which was also initially rejected.
“They didn’t like that because they said that most Mexican American families baptize their kids at two to three months, but they waited until he was five months old, so that threw up a red flag,” Teresa said.
Some of the other documents the couple sent in weren’t even acknowledged. These included elementary school records, Daniel’s older sister’s birth certificate, his U.S. Army records, his father’s work records, Daniel’s notarized birth affidavit and a copy of his mother’s driver’s license.
Every time the U.S. Department of State had issues with documentation, the Daniel and Teresa would send the newly requested paperwork within a day, usually paying overnight shipping, to the Houston Passport Agency.
“It was more than a month before they let us know it was still not good enough. They waste time,” Teresa said. “There were times when I would send them certified mail and they would say they didn’t get it. But, yet we were able to verify that they did get it.”
One issue was that the couple sent the school records themselves rather than having the school send the documents. These specific instructions were not anywhere to be found on government websites, letters or forms.
Another issue was that officials claimed they didn’t receive Daniel’s sister’s birth certificate, but instead got two copies of Daniel’s birth certificate. This led the couple to believe that the documents they sent in were not closely looked at.
They enlisted help from Congressman Flores’ team, who told them every time they called in about their case, they had to share all the details from the beginning as if there was no file on Daniel’s case. To make matters worse, an aide was allegedly treated very rudely while inquiring about the case, and asked to speak to a supervisor, who wasn’t much more helpful.
“The congressman talked them into accepting the baptismal certificate, but they said, ‘Ok, he has one good document now,’” Teresa shared. “So, it’s like I don’t know what else we can come up with it.”
Teresa, who did an intense amount of research on immigration policy and passport processes during the ordeal, said issues occurred during George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s presidencies, but there has been a surge in fraudulent birth certificates during President Donald Trump’s presidency. This is because the ACLU settlement brought passport denials to a halt for the most part during the prior two administrations. Now, passport applications are being treated more rigorously.
Though the Daniel and Teresa support border security and legal immigration into the United STates, they admit they feel Daniel was targeted because he is Latino.
“Which I don’t understand because being able to register to vote has nothing to do with your birth certificate,” he said.
Daniel said he felt betrayed by his country. Meanwhile, Teresa had trouble sleeping worrying that her husband could be deported.
“I can understand that if there is a problem with a specific midwife who has been known to create fraudulent documents, to look at the people who say they have been delivered by her,” Daniel added. “Not just everyone who falls under that category.”
According to The Washington Post, many of the midwives who provided fraudulent birth certificates during those decades also delivered thousands of infants legally in the U.S. The differences between the legitimate and illegitimate documents are nearly indistinguishable as they were all officially issued by the state.
“I think this is where the administration is taking a wrong step in assuming that everyone born with a midwife is fraudulent and now you have to prove that it’s not,” attorney Elizabeth Valdez Garza told local Texas media, adding that most people were legitimately born in the United States.
Teresa said she knows of more than 100 midwives who have admitted or been found to have produced fraudulent birth certificates. Daniel’s paternal grandmother delivered infants within her family only and is not among those midwives. Daniel said the only reason he was delivered at home was because his mother went into labor a month early and there wasn’t enough time to get her to the nearest hospital.
The couple says other families, including many non-Latinos, have reached out to them with similar experiences. The common denominator is at-home births within those decades.
“To not be able to leave the country. If I leave, I can’t get back in,” Daniel said, remembering his recent fears. “It’s just real hard to grasp the fact that there’s someone out there who has an issue with whether I’m a citizen of this country.”
Daniel and Teresa have a newfound mission of working with ACLU to educate other citizens about their rights and how to correctly apply for passports. Though they don’t expect the State Department to give them a reason for the recent application approval, they believe it stems in great part from media attention.
“We pretty much believe the same way we did especially when it comes to border security and illegal immigration. But it’s opened our eyes to how widespread the problem is and how hard it can be for certain groups to live a normal life,” Daniel said.
Christine Bolaños is a Texas-based freelance journalist covering government, education, human interest and business news. The 2016 International Women’s Media Foundation fellow’s work is published regularly in News Deeply, Latina Style Magazine, Cox Media Group and Orphan Outreach, among others. She tweets from @bolanosnews08.