September 09, 2008

ACLU and Refugio del Rio Grande File to Change Department of State Policy in Refusing Passports to Many who were Born Along the US/Mexico Border

On September 9, 2008, the ACLU and Refugio del Rio Grande filed Castelano v. Rice in federal court in McAllen, Texas. The lawsuit seeks relief for individuals living in the border states, who were born by midwife or otherwise, and who have been unable to ascertain a U.S. passport despite evidence of their birth in the United States. The complaint alleges that the Department of State has instituted a discriminatory, blanket policy of treating individuals who were born at home, in a clinic, by midwife or otherwise, who live in a southern border state, and who have a hispanic-sounding last name.

In the complaint, nine plaintiffs, whose passport application have been deemed “filed without action” seek relief to what is alleged to be arbitrary and unreasonable requests for additional evidence of their U.S. birth. Plaintiffs allege that the Department of State policy has not been extended to other geographical areas or ethnic backgrounds.

Beginning in the summer of 2009, individuals wishing to travel to Mexico by land will be required to have a U.S. passport. This change in law has resulted in many of those living along the U.S./Mexico border who travel on a daily basis for work and family to apply for a passport for the first time. In response to their applications, those who were not born in a traditional hospital setting have been informed that they need to introduce additional evidence of their birth in the United States. According to the complaint, these requests often include documents which do not exist, no longer exist, or are impossible to obtain. When an individual is unable to fulfill the request, the State Department has been determining that individual’s application passport “filed without action”, leaving that individual without redress.

To read the complaint, click here.

By Michelle Richart