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Generally, applying for an American passport is pretty straightforward. You just need proof of U.S. citizenship, which, if you were born in the country, could be demonstrated with a valid birth certificate. But the State Department this week acknowledged it was denying passports to hundreds and possibly thousands of Hispanics with U.S. birth certificates, and demanding additional documentation to prove they were actually born in the country.
Fake Birth Certificates
According to the Washington Post, the current passport crackdown is focused on applicants born near the U.S.-Mexico border, and while the State Department contends it "has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications," the Post's investigation indicates some applicants are being jailed in immigration detention centers while others with previously valid passports are having them revoked when they try to re-enter the country.
What's the issue? The possibility of fraud, according to the State Department. "[T]he U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud," the agency told the Post, citing evidence from the 1950s through the '90s that showed some midwives and physicians along the border provided U.S. birth certificates to babies actually born in Mexico.
Cause for Concern
While some midwives admitting to faking U.S. birth certificates -- leading to similar passport crackdowns during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies -- a 2009 settlement following an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that effectively brought an end to mass passport denials along the Texas-Mexico border. But immigration attorneys and advocates have noticed an uptick in passport denials and revocations. "We're seeing these kind of cases skyrocketing," Houston attorney Jennifer Correro told the Post.
"Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport," the State Department said in a statement, adding that applicants "who have birth certificates filed by a midwife or other birth attendant suspected of having engaged in fraudulent activities, as well as applicants who have both a U.S. and foreign birth certificate, are asked to provide additional documentation establishing they were born in the United States." That documentation could include the birth mother's medical records indicating prenatal care, baptism certificates, or rental agreements from the time preceding the birth.
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