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Change to Mexican Voting Laws Could Help Some Texans Get Birth Certificates

An effort by the Mexican government to bolster voter turnout abroad might help some undocumented immigrants in Texas obtain birth certificates for their U.S.-citizen children.

A view of the Texas-Mexico border from El Paso.

An effort by the Mexican government to bolster the country's voter turnout abroad could also help some undocumented immigrants in Texas obtain birth certificates for their U.S.-citizen children.

Earlier this month, the Mexican Consulate in Austin began accepting applications from Mexican nationals who want to receive federal voter ID cards in Texas by mail. Before the change, Mexicans living outside the country could only apply for the ID in Mexico.

Because the voter ID card is also an acceptable secondary form of identification for parents trying to obtain birth certificates for their Texas-born children, it could help some who are mired in a months-long battle with the state.

The previous process to get the election card took too long and discouraged many potential voters, said Consul Carlos González Gutiérrez, who heads the Mexican Consulate General’s office in Austin. González said the ID is also used in Mexico as the primary document needed for other common activities.

“It’s the closest thing we have to a national ID card,” González said. “People use it for everything - to open a bank account, cash a check or for officials requests” to the government, he said.

In Texas, a parent must show one primary form of identification, like a driver’s license or valid passport or visa, in order to obtain a birth certificate for their child. They can also show two secondary documents, including a student ID, an expired primary document, a Medicare or Medicaid card, a private company ID or a Mexican voter ID card.

A spokesman with the Texas DSHS said that since 2013, the agency’s vital statistics unit has issued copies of birth certificates about 260 times where a Mexican voter ID was used as a form of secondary ID. That figure doesn’t include information from local registrars.

Last year, several undocumented immigrants from Central America and Mexico sued the Texas Department of State Health Services after being refused birth certificates for their children who were born on American soil. 

The refusals came after the DSHS ordered county registrars to stop accepting Mexican consular IDs and Central American passports without current visas as valid forms of ID. Attorneys for the families said the change was made without warning and the consular IDs and passports were still accepted in some counties just months before the lawsuit was filed.

The state's directive left several parents who didn’t have other forms of identification unable to obtain birth certificates for their children, their attorneys argued. The families claim the state has violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by refusing to provide the documents.

The case is still pending and is scheduled for a jury trial later this year but Jennifer Harbury, an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid representing some of the families, said the policy change could benefit some of her Mexican clients.  

"It certainly opens the door to discussions" on how to solve the issue, she said.

González’s office is familiar with the lawsuit and opposes the state’s actions. When the Mexican government filed an amicus brief in support of the families last August, González  gave a sworn affidavit attesting to the validity of the Mexican documents that were previously accepted.

But he said the change to Mexican voting law was in the works before the birth certificate controversy began and the two are not directly tied together.  

“The decision to start issuing voter cards by the consular network, or to issue cards abroad, was a decision taken in May of 2014,” he said. “That’s when the reform was approved by Congress so this precedes the birth certificate controversy.”

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