The Slatest

Trump Administration Is Trying to Systematically Strip Citizenship From Many Americans Born Near Mexico Border

A migrant woman nurses her baby in front of a map of Mexico and the U.S. at a shelter for migrants without documents in Las Patronas town, Veracruz State, Mexico on August 10, 2018.
A migrant woman nurses her baby at a shelter for migrants without documents in Las Patronas town, Veracruz State, Mexico on August 10, 2018. RONALDO SCHEMIDT/Getty Images

The next phase in the Trump administration’s effort to reduce immigration is to strip Americans who were simply born and raised near the border with Mexico of their citizenship by claiming their birth certificates and other birth documents are fraudulent. In June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, began an Orwellian-sounding process of “denaturalization” of American citizens that the U.S. government believed obtained citizenship through identity theft and fraud. Over the last nearly 30 years, revoking an American of citizenship has been exceedingly rare, occurring in only several hundred instances. That appears set to change and a Washington Post report Wednesday found the government’s program of invalidating what appears to be almost exclusively Hispanic Americans’ citizenship, by revoking passports of Americans born along the southern border, is not a limited piecemeal effort. It’s an active, if discreet American policy that’s being carried out against card-carrying citizens.

What’s happening? The Post recounted the story of Juan, a 40-year-old American, who was born in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Juan, has served as a private in the U.S. Army, later worked for the Border Patrol, and is now a state prison guard. This year, when he tried to renew his passport, the State Department denied the request, saying, despite his American birth certificate, it didn’t believe he was an American citizen. It’s not clear from the Post’s reporting exactly how widespread this practice is, but those on the ground say it’s most certainly a growing phenomenon. Interviews with immigration attorneys “suggest a dramatic shift in both passport issuance and immigration enforcement,” according to the Post.

The pretense for the Trump government’s move to strip Americans of their citizenship is its belief that hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans born along the border from the 1950s to the 1990s were fraudulently issued American birth certificates by midwives and physicians. There have been documented cases of this type of document fraud occurring. During sting in the 1990s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service found some midwives were getting paid to issue American birth records to Mexican children and uncovered hundreds of fake documents that led to the indictment of at least 10 midwives. This prompted the State Department under George W. Bush and Barack Obama to deny passports to babies delivered by midwives in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. But then what? The problem, the Post notes, is “the same midwives who provided fraudulent birth certificates also delivered thousands of babies legally in the United States [and] [i]t has proved nearly impossible to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate documents, all of them officially issued by the state of Texas decades ago.”

A 2009 settlement between the government and the ACLU appeared to resolve the problem, charting a path forward that ensured that all Americans were afforded the same rights no matter where they were born. In the subsequent years, immigration attorneys said the number of passport denials dropped while disputes and complaints were resolved quickly. The Trump administration, however, appears keen to relitigate the citizenship status of what likely amounts to thousands, even tens of thousands of people. For example, beyond treating the children birthed by midwives as illegitimate citizens, the Post reports, babies delivered by a prominent gynecologist, who delivered as many as 15,000 children during his career, are being denied passports. “In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings,” according to the Post. “In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States.”