U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of undocumented parents and their U.S.-citizen children against the state Department of State Health Services, which has effectively blocked the children from obtaining birth certificates.
The families allege that the department has violated the children’s constitutional rights by ordering local county registrars to stop recognizing Mexican consular IDs — known as a matrícula consular — and foreign passports without valid visas, as proof of identification that the parents may use to obtain the vital records. The state argues the documents are susceptible to fraud.
“Is this a solution in search of a problem?” Pitman asked assistant attorney general Thomas Albright, representing the agency, health Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris. “What makes this burden necessary?”
Pitman’s remarks came after he told the state’s attorneys he would not allow them to debate the importance of birth certificates, a document he said was “the primary evidence of U.S. citizenship.”
The hearing came after the families asked for an emergency injunction ordering the health department to identify two acceptable forms of identification parents can use to obtain birth certificates.
Attorney Jennifer Harbury, representing the families, reiterated her belief that Texas changed its policies without warning in reaction to the national debate over illegal immigration that reached a fever pitch in 2011. After that, she said, Texas became the only state in the country to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting birth certificates.
But Albright said the families haven’t proven their case enough for Pitman to grant the emergency order, and instead said the issue should play out through a regular trial.
“There is no burden on us to say ‘We’re great. Our rule is perfect,’” he told Pitman. “Today is just one step in what is a longer process. I don’t think they’ve argued the proof that you need.”
Albright also focused on the Mexican matrícula, conceding it has been made more secure and tamper proof but saying it is still susceptible to fraud.
Harbury said the families would be amenable to a ruling that excluded that document from a list of approved items. Her argument, she said, is that nothing else is currently acceptable.
“Forty-nine other states accept another form [of ID],” she said.
Though he seemed to question more than one of the state’s claims, Pitman also appeared hesitant to make a decision without more information. It’s unclear when he will rule.
Judge Robert Pittman did not offer many clues about his feelings on the case during the three-hour hearing, but he did grill Albright about the extent of birth certificate fraud, asking several times whether the new state policy was a “solution in search of a problem.”
“If you’re asking if there’s some statistical analysis … I don’t have that,” Albright conceded.
He was quick to add, however: “That’s not my burden.”
Still, the judge did not grant the emergency order, and it is not clear when he will rule. So until then, things will continue to be as they were. The Observer has more.