Dallas County Drawn Into Birth Certificate Debate

After aligning itself with state policy, Dallas County may now be drawn into the legal fray over the state's rules for issuing birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

Texas’ second-largest county has adopted a controversial policy that advocacy groups say could infringe on the civil rights of U.S. citizens born to undocumented parents.

The Dallas County clerk's office announced on its website that as of June 1 it no longer accepts a foreign ID known as the matrícula consular as proof of identity for non-citizens seeking to obtain birth certificates for their U.S.-born children.

The move comes after attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued the Department of State Health Services in May on behalf of six U.S. citizen children and their undocumented immigrant parents, who allege the agency is violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by denying birth certificates. In an amended June filing, the number of plaintiffs rose to 17 families. 

“As a former Dallas ISD teacher and current member of the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees, I’m especially concerned with how this practice will impact a child’s ability to get an education,” Miguel Solis, the president of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, said in an email. “Dallas County is effectively denying constitutionally protected rights to United States Citizens based on who their parents are."

The Dallas County change highlights what some officials argue is a problem created because various county clerks use different rules when issuing birth certificates. The local registrars are the issuing agencies, but the state health services department is being sued because it sets the policy. As such, it has "recently decided" to no longer accept the consular IDs, according to court filings.

An employee with the Dallas County clerk's office said that before June 1 the matrícula was acceptable, but the state told the office to make the change.

“We’re just following what the statute says, and that’s not one of the documents in the statute,” said Yvonne, the employee, who declined to give her last name. 

A DSHS spokesperson said the agency has never accepted the consular ID and has informed local registrars of the policy. “If we become aware that a local registrar is accepting consular IDs, we let the registrar know that it is not a secure nor acceptable form of ID,” spokesman Chris Van Deusen said in email.

In other parts of the state, the ID hasn't been accepted for years.

El Paso County Clerk Delia Briones said the matrícula consular has been rejected there since 2008. That policy came in response to an email sent to Rosalba Ojeda, the former consul general of Mexico in Austin, by Dee Porter, then the chief operating officer of DSHS.

Porter told Ojeda that Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t accept the matrícula as a valid ID, and that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice determined the IDs were not a “reliable form of identification.”

“Therefore we regret to inform you that the Department cannot accept the Matricula Consular card as an independent verification of identity for obtaining or purchasing confidential state vital records,” Porter wrote.

Briones said she wasn’t familiar with the current lawsuit, but thinks that the children should be given their birth certificates. But she also said her office must follow state policy.

Jennifer Harbury, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who is representing the families, said she has received calls from parents in the Dallas area since the county amended its policy. She has also heard from parents in El Paso and Laredo who are having problems obtaining birth certificates.

“Most places just kept ahead taking it for years until it became a hot-button issue because of the controversy over immigration reform,” she said. She added that she could amend the lawsuit again if people continue having problems, no matter what county they live in.

“Anyone that contacts us we’re happy to listen to and assist in anyway we can,” she said.

The Texas attorney general's office has asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the state has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court. The plaintiffs' response to that claim is due later this week.