Gicel Yruegas, a college student living in California, would like to travel and see the world. She does, however, have a problem. She cannot get a passport to travel, because the State Department does not believe she is an American citizen. The reason: Yruegas was born by midwife in an El Paso clinic in 1985.
Yruegas’ situation may sound unusual, but she’s hardly alone. She is one of thousands of Americans born by midwife whose citizenship is questioned by their own government, leaving them entangled in a web of bureaucratic incompetence and failed immigration policy.
The extra scrutiny on passport applications is a byproduct of the Obama administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The State Department in particular seems concerned with midwives in border states who may be fraudulently claiming that Mexican nationals were born in America. In an attempt to close this possible immigration loophole, the government is targeting an inordinate number of Latinos in border states born by midwife.
Yruegas had no idea the government would ever question her citizenship, until she applied for a passport in 2008. She had hoped to study in Europe, but her application was denied by the State Department, who demanded more proof she was an American. “They sent me a letter that said because I was born through a midwife, I needed to provide more proof that I was born in the United States,” she said. “I always knew that I was born in a clinic by midwife, but I never realized it would be a problem for me later.”
Yruegas’ parents were Mexican nationals who were in the country undocumented in 1985. “My mother knew that since she was undocumented, she wouldn’t get assistance at the local hospital,” she said. “My uncle, who was an American citizen living in El Paso at the time, suggested a local midwife clinic, which is where I was born.”
Growing up, Yruegas’ citizenship was never in question, even when she started attending school. “I did have a birth certificate my parents received when I was born, but when my school asked for a second birth certificate, they were able to get one from the local hospital, and it was fine. It only became an issue when I tried to get a passport.
“The State Department asked for pictures, vaccine records, school records, anything that I could provide that I was born here. I sent them everything, even my two birth certificates, including the original that had my footprints on it,” she said. “They said ‘no, that’s still not enough, we need proof our mother was in the United States,’ but I don’t know what additional proof they need.”
Yruegas has actually been rejected three separate times for a passport, most recently in 2011, when she had hoped to vacation in Australia. She is now consulting with an attorney about possible litigation to earn her passport.
Complicating matters is the midwife who ran the El Paso clinic later closed it and could not be tracked down. Yruegas’ parents moved back to Mexico once she became an adult and still live there today. However, Yruegas told the State Department that a number of people, including her uncle and grandparents (who were all U.S. citizens living in El Paso in 1985) were willing to testify to her American birth, but it still wasn’t enough. “I think if you have ten people willing to testify that my mother was here, that should count for something, especially when they are all American citizens,” she said.
This nearly impossible burden of proof has placed thousands of American citizens, mostly of Mexican descent, in a precarious legal position. The continued rejection of passports caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who sued the government in 2008. The ACLU called the government’s practice unconstitutional, stating their actions “effectively reduced to second-class citizenship status an entire swath of passport applicants based solely on their being of Mexican or Latino descent and having been delivered by midwives in non-hospital settings in Southwestern border states.” The ACLU settled with the Obama administration in 2009, and assurances were made that passports would no longer be rejected based solely on the fact that a midwife supervised the birth. However, the rejections continue, leading many to once again have attorneys sue on their behalf.
The government contends their actions are in response to midwives fraudulently claiming Mexican nationals were born in the United States, but the Associated Press reports that only 75 Texas midwives have been convicted of birth registry fraud between 1960 and 2009, and average of 1.5 cases a year. The government also claims to have a list of 250 “suspicious” midwives, but did not elaborate on their reasoning for the designation. State Department officials refuse to disclose how many passports are rejected on the basis of midwife birth.
The rejection of passports by the State Department does not seem to cause the Department of Homeland Security to question the citizenship status of those involved. According to the Associated Press, however, the practice has even called into question the birthplace of members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Yruegas finds it ironic that the government seems selective in their opinion of her citizenship. “I go to school here, I pay my taxes here, and I’m a good citizen,” she said. “But when I need something from my government, they aren’t there. When I file and pay my taxes, though, suddenly I’m a citizen.”
For Yruegas, the idea that her own country doubts her citizenship is about more than just a passport. “This is sad. America is all I’ve known. If I’m not from here, where am I from?”
Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to receive a weekly email update from WhenLiberalsAttack.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.