South Texas families sue state agency over denial of birth certificates

Texas Department of State Health Services not accepting matricular consular as adequate ID

SAN ANTONIO – A group of South Texas parents say they are being denied their children's birth certificates.

The allegation from 17 families has resulted in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services filed by the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide and the South Texas Civil Rights Project.

TRLA is representing 19 adults from Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties while the TCRP is representing the 23 children, according to court documents.

"It is absolutely illegal. The federal government Constitution says anyone born within the U.S is entitled to privileges and immunities of U.S citizenship," TCRP senior attorney Efren Olivares said. "The most fundamental privilege of being a U.S citizen is a U.S. birth certificate."

Juana spoke to KSAT on the condition of protecting her identity. She is trying to obtain the birth certificate for her 20-month-old daughter, who was delivered at Women's Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg in late 2013. The mother has decided to speak out on behalf of her daughter, who by law, is a U.S. citizen.

In Texas, a parent must apply with DSHS to receive a birth certificate. When Juana went to the vital statistics office at Edinburg City Hall to file for her daughter's birth certificate, they told her that her matricula consular would not be accepted. 

Olivares said the matricular consular is a valid form of identification given to Mexican nationals living abroad and some of his clients used them in the past to obtain birth certificates. It can be used to open bank accounts, buy a home and a variety of legal transactions.

However, DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen said the agency has never accepted the matricula consular as adequate identification because "the documents used to obtain the matricula are not verified by the issuing party. When it comes to obtaining a copy of a birth certificate, DSHS, county clerks, and local registrars have a duty to verify the requestor's identity in order to protect the sensitive personal information contained on a birth certificate. The requirement that a requestor show a valid identification also protects against fraud and identity theft." 

But Juana and the 16 other families say without a proper birth certificate the children can't receive Medicaid benefits, enroll in school or be baptized by the Catholic Church. Olivares confirms a lot of the children involved have disabilities and need special services.

As for the status of the lawsuit, Olivares said DSHS has recently filed a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety.

"If this lawsuit were to be dismissed what would happen to these children?" Olivares asked.

Olivares said the goal for Juana and the other families involved is to obtain their birth certificates and have the state agency set clear policy guidelines. The plaintiffs would also like DSHS to provide a statement as to what people in similar situations should do.

Meanwhile, Juana isn't giving up and said she will continue to speak out for those that might be too afraid. 

"If people don't speak up things will never change," Juana said. "It's not just."

Anyone having an issue obtaining a birth certificate can contact TCRP by calling 956-787-8171 or by visiting their website.

The TRLA telephone hotline is 1-888-988-9996 or can be found by clicking on this link.

For a list of identifications accepted by the DSHS, click here.