ACLU files suit against federal government - Brownsville Herald: News

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ACLU files suit against federal government

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Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2008 12:00 am

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government on Tuesday, alleging that the U.S. Department of State is discriminating against South Texas passport applicants delivered by midwives.

ACLU lawyers called the State Department's policy a categorical violation of human rights. According to the lawsuit, applicants are forced to go to unreasonable lengths to prove their citizenship - often in the form of obscure or antiquated documentation.

"They're asked for evidence that in some cases never existed in the first place," ACLU attorney Robin Goldfaden said.

State Department officials say that Rio Grande Valley residents are being scrutinized due to the history of fraudulently granted birth certificates in the region. According to a list comprised by Immigration and Naturalization Services, at least 75 South Texas midwives have been convicted of fraud since the 1960s.

"Since 2001, we've made our procedures a lot more secure," Cy Ferenchak, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, told The Brownsville Herald in July.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed with DC-based Hogan & Hartson and Harlingen-based Refugio del Rio Grande, suggests that the State Department is acting on "blanket race-based suspicion" in denying due process and equal protection to thousands of South Texans.

The lawsuit is the first that the ACLU has filed from the Valley. The organization opened an office in San Juan in February.

Although the lawsuit is initially being filed in the U.S. District Court in McAllen on behalf of nine plaintiffs, lawyers have applied for class-action status in order to represent a larger group of South Texans.

One of the original plaintiffs, David Hernandez, served in the U.S. Army in the 1980s and was stationed abroad for several years.

"The birth certificate was good enough for the Army," he said, "but I guess it's not good enough to get a passport."

Because of a new federal requirement, passports will be required beginning in June 2009 for Americans who want to cross the border.

Hernandez wonders how he'll get to Monterrey, Mexico, where many of his relatives live.

"I would have liked to see them when I needed to," he said. "But I'm being treated different. That's not equality."

 

 

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