(CNN) — A growing number of Hispanics along the Texas-Mexico border with birth records showing they were born in the United States are being denied US passports, held in immigration detention centers, and entered into deportation proceedings, immigration attorneys and individuals affected told the Washington Post.
According to the Post report, the issue stems from a government allegation that from the 1950s through the 1990s, midwives and physicians working along the border issued US birth certificates to babies born in Mexico, which some birth attendants have admitted to in court.
The State Department denies changing its “policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications.” The agency also said the border region “happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.”
The State Department isn’t providing current data on the denials, so CNN cannot independently verity they have surged under President Trump.
But immigration attorneys and cases identified by the Post suggest a significant change in passports issued and how immigration laws are enforced.
Though scrutiny of these individuals’ citizenship began in the George W. Bush administration and continued into the Obama administration, the passport denials came mostly to an end around 2009 following a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. But denials have been picking up since the start of the Trump administration, three immigration attorneys told CNN. And the bar for proving citizenship appears to be getting higher.
“[It’s] been going on forever. Now, with a lot more fervor and aggressiveness on the part of the government lawyers,” said Jodi Goodwin, a lawyer based in Harlingen, Texas.
The problem stems from a lack of cultural awareness about the way of life in this rural part of the country, Brownsville attorney Jaime Diez said. Though some midwives committed fraud, many delivered babies on US soil to Mexican parents, which makes those children US citizens, he said.
“The reality is that this is a rural area and for many years that was the only way people were being born,” he said. “The Department of State has this belief that because you were born with a midwife you were not born here.”
Attorney Carlos Garcia said he has noticed a pattern under the Trump administration: “There’s no doubt that the Latino community is under attack and these tactics that the government is using throughout their different agencies are a direct attack on members of our community.”
The evidence the federal government asks passport applicants to produce is often difficult to obtain — or, it may not exist, leaving passport seekers in difficult situations, Diez said.
One individual affected named Juan, a former soldier, told the Post that some of documents the State Department requested included “evidence of his mother’s prenatal care, his baptismal certificate, (and) rental agreements from when he was a baby.” Once Juan provided some of the documentation, he was still denied a passport, the Post reported.
Arthur, who requested anonymity because he fears retribution from immigration officials, was born through a midwife. He told CNN he’s had his passport renewal request denied twice — once during the Obama administration, and again this year.
After his first denial, he ultimately prevailed and received his passport in 2008. When it expired, he applied to renew it this year, he said. This time around, he said the State Department requested more information on top of what he sent in 2008, such as a picture of the building he was born in, baptism records and school records, he said.
Again, he received his renewed passport, but only after significant time and expense, he said. “It feels like they don’t trust, even though I have applied for federal jobs, I have due process, everything. And they still don’t trust?”
Diez said he has represented more than 100 people who sued after they were denied passports.
Some of his clients were removed from the US, others were coerced into admitting they were not born in the US, he said.
“Most of them, I have won. And it is getting worse. Presently I have about 30 cases I am working on in federal court.”
Two of his clients were told to present at themselves at a port of entry and asked to be admitted as aliens, which means they could be detained, he said. “It is a procedure that goes against any principle I can imagine.”
He has also represented soldiers who were able to obtain military identifications and clearances during their service, only to be denied their passports, he said. But if they want a passport, they have no choice but to submit to the process, he said.