Judge Denies Emergency Relief in Birth Certificate Case

A federal district judge Friday declined to order Texas officials to institute a temporary fix so children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States can get their birth certificates while a lawsuit filed by their parents is being tried.  

Instead of issuing a temporary order sought by the families, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the case should proceed through the full hearing process given the complexity of the issues involved. 

Pitman’s ruling comes two weeks after attorneys for the families told the judge that the children’s civil rights had been violated because county registrars, by order of the Texas Department of State Health Services, would not issue birth certificates because the parents did not present one or more acceptable forms of ID. More than 30 families have joined the suit since the initial complaint was filed in May.

“Although the Plaintiffs have provided evidence which raises grave concerns regarding the treatment of citizen children born to immigrant parents, this case requires additional determinations which can be made only upon development and presentation of an evidentiary record,” Pitman wrote in a 27-page decision.

The parents and their attorneys contend that IDs previously used to obtain the vital records, specifically the Mexican Consular ID (called the matrícula consular) and foreign passports, were accepted in some counties just months ago until the department amended its policies without warning.

 

Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office represents the state agency, has said the safeguards are in place to prevent identify fraud.

He praised Friday’s ruling as a positive step toward vindicating the DSHS and the state and protecting a Texan’s identity.

“Before issuing any official documents, it’s important for the state to have a way to accurately verify people are who they say they are through reliable identification mechanisms,” he said in a statement. “We will continue defending DSHS’s policy on safeguarding Texans’ most sensitive information and vital documents.”

Jennifer Harbury, an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid representing the families, thanked Pitman for his “thoroughness” in considering all the evidence in the case but said the children still face harm while the families wait for a resolution.

“We appreciate the thoroughness of Judge Pitman’s considerations in denying the preliminary injunction and the serious issues involved,” she said in a statement. “We also understand his decision to await a full trial upon all of the evidence before issuing an injunction on such a crucial matter. We worry, however, about the safety of many Texas children in the interim. Without their birth certificates they are having difficulty gaining access to basic services, including school and medical care.”

During the Oct. 2 hearing, Harbury asked Pitman to grant an emergency injunction ordering the health department to identify two acceptable forms of identification parents can use to obtain birth certificates. She said the state didn’t necessarily have to begin accepting the Mexican matrícula. But she argued that at least one or two documents should be made available.

The case will now proceed to trial.

 

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