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Lawyers say U.S.-born kids harmed by Texas denying birth certificates to immigrant parents

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In this July 7 file photo, immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the country illegally board a bus after they were released from a family detention center in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO » Lawyers asked a judge to intervene on the behalf of immigrant families who were denied birth certificates for their U.S.-born children because Texas health officials refused to recognize as valid certain forms of foreign identifications, according to court papers.

The lawyers filed for an emergency injunction in an Austin federal court Friday, saying that harm has been done to children and their families who need the birth certificates to enroll in school and ensure parental rights. The lawyers have asked that the Texas Department of State Health Services name two reasonable forms of identification available to the immigrant parents who are here illegally, allowing them to receive the birth certificates.

The parents, who came from Mexico and Central America, live in Texas, the majority in the Rio Grande Valley along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although the parents are not U.S. citizens, their children are, because the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees the right of citizenship to anyone born on American soil. Birthright citizenship has become a hot topic among the Republican presidential contenders after Donald Trump said he would end it for immigrants here illegally.

Without a birth certificate, it can be difficult for parents to access medical care, travel, school enrollment and other benefits available to U.S. citizens.

Among other issues cited by the lawyers is a child living in dangerous part of Mexico who can’t return to the U.S. because he lacks a birth certificate. Also immigrant parents have been "stopped and questioned by immigration officials about their children’s immigration status as well as their parental relationship to the children," according to the filing.

"School is about to start, and they can’t go," said Efren Olivares, a senior attorney at the South Texas Civil Rights Project and one of the lawyers representing the immigrant families. "This is an emergency measure because there will be irreparable harm if they don’t get their birth certificates."

The lawyers, who now represent 27 parents and their 32 children, filed suit against the Texas Department of State Health Services last May after officials refused to issue birth certificates for their U.S.-born children, citing invalid forms of identification. Lawyers for the state have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because the court lacks jurisdiction over claims against the state agency.

The state has also argued that it has the "power to control the circumstances under which it will provide copies of birth certificates" and that its policies do not interfere with any federal regulations.

At issue is the health service agency’s Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, and its refusal to honor various foreign identifications from immigrant parents. Many Mexican immigrants receive identification cards commonly known as matriculas, which are issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States.

But officials have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally to obtain birth certificates for their children, according to the lawsuit. The agency has said it never accepted these documents as valid, and there has been no change to the state’s identification requirements.

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