President Donald Trump has plainly stated his intention to shrink the number of immigrants who call the United States home, but his quest has gone far beyond where most Americans would go.
What started with a stated desire to rid the country of dangerous criminals quickly spread to all undocumented immigrants. Then came the proposed limits on already-low legal migration quotas. There was his ongoing call to eliminate family migration, or as Trump prefers, “chain migration.” Soon after came another frightening tactic: going after some naturalized citizens, attempting to strip them of their citizenship for sometimes decades-old offenses.
Now comes the latest outrage: According to a story in the Washington Post, Hispanic Americans with U.S. birth certificates, mostly born in border towns, have become targets. Some have had their passports revoked upon attempting to re-enter the U.S. after leaving the country. Others have attempted to renew existing passports only to be denied, their American-ness suddenly called into question. Some have even found themselves in deportation proceedings — all because the government has expressed doubts about the authenticity of their birth certificates. Not proven, just alleged. On that thin reed, the federal government has upended the lives of Americans who suddenly find themselves scouring baby books, hospital records, family Bibles, school records, hiring attorneys — all in the frantic attempt to prove the facts of their birth.
What if the government suddenly challenged your birth certificate? How would you prove it? What if the hospital no longer exists? Maybe the attending doctor has died. Perhaps your mother opted for a midwife, as hundreds of thousands of women do each year. Why, you might ask yourself, shouldn’t the burden of proof fall on the government to produce more than doubts or allegations?
One would think that immigration officials would be busy enough tracking Dreamers, rounding up farmworkers, hunting down those convicted of actual felonies. Are they so devoid of targets, so flush with resources that they now can afford to come after Americans who simply are seeking to renew their passports? How can a mere allegation suddenly trap an American citizen in a foreign land, rendered stateless by the absence of a valid passport?
If due process is to mean anything in this country, it surely must ensure that those who possess an American birth certificate can live their lives without the fear that at some random moment they might need to prove their citizenship.
And the “proof” required by the State Department is another matter. Among the documents they suggest as secondary proof are baptismal certificates and family Bibles. How unfortunate for those whose parents might not have been churchgoers, or even religious. Why would a secular government accept a religious article as proof of U.S. birth? Also on the list are U.S. Census records, which, of course, the federal government could easily access on its own, rather than forcing law-abiding citizens to do so at their own time and expense.
This is not the first time birth certificates have become an issue. In the 1990s the government investigated some midwives in Texas and found they indeed were helping to produce fake birth certificates. Those individuals were prosecuted, as they should have been. A subsequent court settlement with the ACLU in 2009 came with the assurance that the feds would no longer deny passports to Latinos simply because they’d been born in a Texas border town, delivered by a midwife.
If the Trump administration has fresh evidence of legal infractions, it should pursue them and take the perpetrators to court. Hounding law-abiding citizens with unproven allegations and forcing the burden of proof on them smacks of a different agenda entirely.