Delivered by a midwife in South Texas? No passport for you


For untold numbers of Latinos born in the Southwest who were delivered by midwives, obtaining a passport has become almost an impossibility, according to a class action suit filed by the ACLU on September 9th. The suit alleges the State Department is sending this group of passport applicants on a “scavenger hunt” and when presented with requested additional documentation, denying the applications anyway.

On June 1, 2009 the Federal Government will implement the land and sea travel requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The rules require US citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry, even from WHTI countries, have a passport, passport card, or other WHTI-compliant document. For Mexican-Americans, like all Americans wishing to visit Mexico, that means they will need a passport or other WHTI-compliant document to return to the United States from their Mexican visit.

The Brownsville Herald has reported that “the new policy assumes that midwives provided 15,000 South Texans with fraudulent birth certificates between 1960 and the early 1990s.”

Patricia Austin and Imelda Hart contacted U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Both politicians agreed to look at Hart’s passport denial case, but she still has no passport after being denied in July 2007. Both women currently live in central Florida. Hart was midwife-delivered in the Rio Grande Valley area of southern Texas, where a number of midwives were convicted of granting fraudulent birth certificates, while Austin was midwife-delivered in Jackson, Tenn. Austin received her passport in less than two weeks.

According to the State Department’s site, in order to get a passport, you need to prove citizenship. For citizens born in the U.S., you can provide a previously issued passport, or a state, city or county certified birth certificate. The birth certificate had to be filed with the government within one year of the date of birth. Recognizing that many birth certificates were not filed in a timely manner, the State Department states,

A Delayed Birth Certificate filed more than one year after your birth may be acceptable if it:

  1. Listed the documentation used to create it and,
  2. Signed by the attending physician or midwife, or, lists an affidavit signed by the parents, or shows early public records.

Furthermore, recognizing that in many cases a person may have no birth certificate, like my own father who had no problem obtaining a passport, who was born in the early part of the 20th century at home, the State Department says that you can provide a “letter of no record” from the state in which you were born, and as many documents as possible of a baptismal certificate, hospital birth certificate, census record, early school record, family bible record, and doctor’s record of post-natal care, to prove citizenship.

The ACLU tells the story of David Hernandez, a plaintiff in the case, who was born in San Benito, Texas, in 1964. Hernandez lived and attended school in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and honorably served in the U.S. Army. Hernandez provided the State Department evidence of his mother’s residency in the U.S. at the time of his birth, his immunization records, school records, and even a letter from the Mexican Civil Registry stating that there was no record of his being born in Mexico to meet their demand for additional information. Nevertheless, the State Department denied his application and closed the case. Hernandez said,

I thought that in America everyone was supposed to be equal. I was born here. I’ve lived and worked here and served in the Army. I feel betrayed, like my country is stabbing me in the back just because my mother didn’t have the luxury of having me in a hospital.

Juan Aranda, another plaintiff in the case, born in Weslaco, Texas in 1970 has a similar story. He has lived and worked in the U.S. his entire life. Today, he works as a supervisor at a U.S. company that sells drinking water in Mexico, and must frequently cross the border as part of his job. Without a passport he is in serious danger of losing his job.

ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Robin Goldfaden stated,

Based on blanket race-based suspicion, the State Department is sending this select group of passport applicants on a veritable scavenger hunt and then refusing to issue them passports without a fair examination of their individual cases. Denying passports to U.S. citizens in this way is clearly against the law and violates our core American values of fairness and equality.

To me, considering the conviction of midwives in the Rio Grande Valley for granting fraudulent birth certificates, requiring the extra documentation as stated in State Department rules to obtain a passport makes sense.

However, blanketly denying passport applications even after the additional documentation has been provided is high-handed and outrageous behavior by the State Department, and needs to be stopped immediately.

  • Ron G

    My parents and their siblings had a similar issue with birth certificates issued from Jersey City, NJ and Hudson County, NJ. It seems there was a lot of fraud from that part of Jersey with many fraudulent birth certificates.

    My mom and her sister couldn’t get the new Digital Drivers Licenses issued by NJ with their birth certificates issued from Jersey City. It took a lot of phone calls and a trip to Trenton to get it cleared up.

    Document fraud was pretty wide spread years ago. It affected many people.

  • Ron G

    Here’s an excerpt from Bergen County, NJ’s county clerks office for those looking for a passport:

    Birth Certificate: an original birth certificate, or a certified copy of your original birth certificate with a raised seal. PLEASE NOTE: a hospital certificate or baptismal certificate WILL NOT be accepted.

    As a result of a joint U.S. Dept. of State and U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation Hudson County Clerk’s Office of Vital Statistics and Jersey City issued birth certificates are no longer acceptable. A NJ State issued Birth Certificate is required for application of a passport. For a State issued replacement of a Hudson County Clerk and Jersey City issued birth certificate go to this link:

    NJ State Vital Statistics

  • James

    Most people in the US have a Hospital Issued “Commemorative Birth Certificate”. Which is not OK.

    If you were born overseas you need a “Consular Report of Birth Abroad”.

  • David B

    I was born in Brownsville Texasm am unfourtanately am going through the same trouble ofr a passport, and at this point I dont know what I need to do to get this clear up, I was already questioned by State Department agents and they just told me to go to court and stuff but nothing else any suggestions.

  • Mary

    I have a friend who is going through this same problem as David B. What is the next step? Does she need to get an immigration lawyer? What about her status as a U.S. Citizen? What will happen then, her drivers license, SS card??? This is all confusing. People in these situations are citizens of the U.S. They worked here, paid taxes, stayed out of trouble, and now they have to be treated like this. I’m not sure what advice to give her!

  • Juan Paulo Garza

    I also was born in 1978 with a midwife. I havent even tried applying for a passport because of all the stories out there about denying your application. If you have any suggestions, (on how to prove that i am a u.s. citizen) please let me know.

  • Sandra Cavazos Gandy

    Hi, I find myself in the same boat as many others and have turned even to the new President Obama for help, not sure if it will get me anywhere, I called the
    ACLU and e-mailed, was contacted by a lawyer working cases in conjuction with them but they could not take anymore clients, they needed my information to prove the cases now at hand. I need help! This is our right! We deserve to live free we are US Citizens and we deserve the right to travel just like everyone else. I feel like I am in a Golden cage, I am in, but can’t get out, and if I do, I can’t come home. Where is the justice and pursuit for happiness and liberty in that!

  • Ned Levi

    Hi Sandra. May I suggest you contact some politicians closer to home who may be able to help.

    I’d immediately contact your US House Representative. I’ve found they love stuff like this. I’d also contact your two state Senators. I’d first email them.

    Here’s the US House of Representative page to help you quick email your Representative. Also here’s the main page of the US House of Representatives which can help you find your own Representative’s web site. Just enter your zipcode + 4 in the upper left hand area to find your Representative.

    Here’s the main page of the US Senate. If you choose your state in the upper right hand corner and click on “go” it will provide you with links to your Senators’ web sites.

    After you email them, I would at least telephone your Representative’s office in Washington to follow up. That will help alert them to the seriousness of your situation, and perhaps move them to work harder on your behalf.

    Good luck. As a citizen like the rest of us, you deserve it.

  • Ned Levi

    To everyone who is having this problem, or who has relatives or friends with the problem, it’s clear to me you need specialized, competent, legal assistance.

    As of September, 2008 the ACLU has challenged the State Department’s refusal to issue Passports to U.S. citizens under the circumstances described in my article.

    While as Sandra Cavazos Gandy above mentioned, the ACLU is apparently not taking on more cases at this time, perhaps they can direct you to an attorney who can help you.

    You might also contact Father Mike Seifert, a member of the Marist Fathers and Brothers, part of a Marist family of priests, brothers, sisters and lay groups. Father Seifert is the pastor of San Felipe de Jesus Church in Brownsville, Texas. Father Seifert has been outspoken about the problem and has been attempting to help countless Americans who have the problem. While Father Seifert might not be able to help you directly, he may be able to direct you to someone who can. I believe you can contact Father Seifert via the Proyecto Digna, Inc of Brownsville, Texas at 956-550-8826.

    As I suggested to Sandra above, I would also contact your US House Representative and your Senators. I believe your Representative, in particular, and their office will actually try to help you.

  • norma

    I just received my letter from the State Dept. requesting a ton of additional information, half of which I can’t find since my mother passed away 4 years ago. Judging from all I have read online I am pretty sure I will not be receiving my passport. I called an attorney (I have prepaid legal services through my job) and he suggested I first try sending in everything I have.
    If they turn me down, I am calling the ACLU, my two senators and my representative.
    I can honestly say that up until now, I have never in my life been a victim of racism. This is just Maddening! Midwives on the border are automatically suspect? Whatever happened to due process?

  • Ned Levi

    Norma, I’ve followed up with a new article Still no passport if you were delivered by a midwife in Texas as I’ve found things aren’t getting better.

    I wouldn’t wait to contact the ACLU. Your problem will strengthen the case and help everyone in the same situation. I would also contact your Senators and Representative without delay. Hitting the problem on all fronts at once can’t hurt and could help.

  • GarzaG

    My husband was born in Corpus Christi in 1951 and his mother is also a natural born citizen born to a midwife in Mercedes, Texas. My husband has been denied his passport and he has birth certificate, baptismal records, several elementary report cards and graduation diploma. Since his father was a legal resident (who has passed away) and laborer and his mother was a housewife, he has difficulty coming up with other records. He has lived in the US all his life and was born in Corpus. How does he prove it other than with that birth certificate they are now questioning? Why are they not questioning those of non-Latinos who were born to midwives? Help

  • Ned Levi

    Garza, one thing that seems to help a lot are immunization records showing the really early shots, such as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis normally given at 2 months, given by a US doctor, hopefully the same US doctor for all shots, if you can find those records. Nevertheless, it’s tough when the government assumes you’re lying.

    The other kind of document that helps is one which somehow shows a mother was in the US while pregnant and immediately afterward. I assume from your message that your husband has no proof his mother was a citizen when he was born, as that would clear up the whole matter.

    For most cultures, the mother was the one from which lineage was considered, not the father, as until DNA testing there was no real way to prove who the father was. Moreover birth is via the mother, so if other documents can show the mother was in the US just prior, and just after birth, that can help.

    The government is not questioning non-Latinos because the convicted midwives weren’t delivering non-Latinos, but in my opinion, and that of many others, the government has taken the situation way too far. The government has uncovered about 15,000 fraudulent birth certificates, but for years, from the ’60s through the ’90s there were more midwife delivered births in Texas each year than that, and we’re talking, and we’re talking about more than 30 years. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I suggest you contact the ACLU in Texas. Your husband’s problems can help their case which can help him if they win, and they may be able to direct you to an attorney who can assist you, if they can’t directly help him.

  • Mary

    I, like everyone else, have been denied. Though i have sent everything i had. One thing i wanted to add was that i tried to get all my shot records from when i was a child and the doctors office said they only keep records for the past 6 years, everything else they throw away.

  • Imelda Hart

    My name is Imelda Hart. I was one of the stories posted on here. I have since received my passport…thank God. As Ned Levi suggested above, I would first start with contacting your state Senators or your US House Representatives. I was told that each situation is different, and what works for one person may not for work for another. In contacting my state Senator I was able to speak with the passport agency and find out what other documents I could provide in lieu of some of the ones they were requesting.

    I know what each one of you is going through, and I am sorry that because of some corrupt people the innocent have to suffer. My last piece of advice would be, no matter what, DO NOT GIVE UP!! My parents did nothing wrong, their only fault was not having enough money to go to a hospital for me to be delivered.

    I love my country and it may not be perfect , but it’s still better than living anywhere else in the world. Just ask anyone that wasn’t born here.

  • Ned Levi

    Imelda, thank you very much for your comment. Tonight, my wife and I will toast your success in finally obtaining this important symbol of your fellow citizenship in the country we all love. I have said exactly what you have said in your message, “…it may not be perfect, but it’s still better than living anywhere else in the world.”

    We all need to help ensure that Americans like you are not discriminated against because of the actions of a few, nor because you grew up poor. We have to help our government representatives understand, not just how important it is for all Americans to be able to obtain a passport for travel, but that it’s importance as a symbol of their US citizenship, for those who love this country, and the best it stands for, cannot be underestimated.

    It makes me very happy that you have finally received your passport.

  • SVasquezGrizzle

    I too was denied a passport 1.5 years ago. I immediately contacted my congressman and state rep. They really did not know how to help in this manner.
    The person whom I spoke to at Sen. K.Bailey-Hutchinson’s office, was clueless as to how to help. She was also unaware of the past laws regarding immigration.
    What mostly upset me, was the way the Dept of State assumed me to be “guilty until proven innocent.” They also send you on a wild goose chase: asking for documents that NO ONE person can possible have. Who do you ask for help?
    The NCIS only processes people who are not legally in the US. The NCIS cannot help me because according to them, I AM A US Citizen!



  • Esmeralda Perez

    I am on the same situation rigth now unfortunally my mother took me to Mexico with her because her and my dad had problems and they got divorce so I spend my first 14 years in Mexico. I don’t know what to do I already send them all the information and papers that I have I only need my passport because Iam sponsoring my husband and I have an appoiment in Ciudad Juarez and if I don’t go their going to denied our case and I need my husband here we have 3 kids and is not easy. I wasn’t born with a midwife. I was born in a clinic in Pharr, Tx Suderman Clinic unfortunally the Clinic close its doors in 2003 and they said that they distroy all the evidence that they had buy I already got a letter from the city hall and they still asking for more info. I don’t know what else to do this is PURE RACISM.what can I do?

  • Maribel
  • Ricardo Torres

    I don’t want a passport, i do not want to travel into Mexico, and I will die not going into Mexico to travel and learn about my country. If i cannot prove that i am a U.S. citizen, then keep me here like all the other people that are really not us citizens and are still here,

  • Nilda

    OOHHH MY GOD I was born in the same clinic … Suderman and am having the same problems. I was asked separate things taht I will never get THE MOST STUPID was proof of the PLASENTA of my mother…….. Do me a favor.
    What this people wants????

  • Nancy

    OMG. what does this stupid people want from me? i was born in texas but was delivered by a midwife, and know they call me and tell me that my passport will not be issued to me because of that. what the ….. that is not my fault it is not my fault. That to me is a bunch of bull. ive been in this country since i was 4 years old. i even went to college and got my degree in that and what now they tell me that im not getting my passport and that soon i would not be able to work, what the f… with that? and all that money that i spend in college what are they going to refund it back to me r what? i doubt it but i want my money back bad.

  • Maribel

    Just an FYI. The state department hires smaller agencys to do their job. and the smaller agencys on behalf of the state deparmtment are asking for extra information. every time I would talk to the agency they would give me an extention of 60 to 90 days with out me asking. I called the 1-800 # on the passport aplication and made a complaint they reported my complaint to the state department and the agency. The agency call me right back and I had difficulty understanding their heavy accent. they assume many things. They assume my religion because I am Mexican. I was very upset and I told them to stop giving me extentiions and for them to send the information directly to the State. They have not denied me and have not send my passport. I will wait and see what happens I have send them enough. and now I need to know what will happen. If you are in the same situation let them know you will not send anymore information. I missed the class action lawsuit deadline because of their extensions.

  • Sandra N Mata

    Hello, I’ve recently been investigated by the state representatives and they’ve told me that they are denying my passaport due to being born with a midwife who has been accused of fraudulent. I’ve also been informed that my case will be turned over to INS and my legal status will change in this country after being born/raised for the last 38 years. This is not only an impact to me most importantly my family i have worked for a major corporation for 18 years. What are my options i don’t want to leave things like this I want to fight this and now with the threat that they will deport me ?

  • Ned Levi

    If you’ve been officially turned down, and therefore your legal status has become questionable, my advice is simple and straight forward. You need to immediately hire an attorney specializing in immigration issues.

    Good luck.

  • Candida

    I was bonrne in Arizona, and I have the same problem, I was borne in the back seat of a car in whiteriver AZ my parents were native american and I was home school because my father did not trust anyone. now I need my delayed birth certificate and can not get it because I was home school, the chruch I was baptized in burn to the ground and I was a only child, I have my marriage license, SSN, my kids birth certificate to show where I was borne then I found a half brother of my mother who signed a notorize letter stating he was there at my birth. this is not fare I have tried call contacted my congressman and state rep and they know nothing I even sent letters to the white house but the same runaround it is not my fault that my parents did not register my birth or had me in a car in the middle of the night. This has happen twice trying to get my delayed birth certificate but denied, I have health problems no because of this. and I may end up with a death certificate before I get a birth certificate. I tried getting a passport which they say you can get but that is a lie is there any attorney that can help me, I need this to renew my drivers license so I can work and feed my kids PLEASE Help