Passports Denied: Mexican-Americans Can’t Travel

September 23, 2008


New America Media, News feature, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Sep 22, 2008 Share/Save/Bookmark

Editor’s note: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people of Mexican descent were subjected to unreasonable and arbitrary demands to prove that they are citizens of the United States before getting a passport. This includes Texas native, David Hernandez, a decorated Army veteran, reports NAM writer Roberto Lovato.

Texas native David Hernandez, a decorated Army veteran who served his country in different parts of the world, can no longer see the world after his country denied him a passport.

Hernandez and other residents living in and around the U.S.-Mexico border are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging that, in denying them passports, the U.S. State Department is engaging in a new kind of racial discrimination: non-citizen profiling.

“This all started when I sent them (the U.S. State Department) my passport and they sent me a letter saying that it wasn’t sufficient. So, I sent them all kinds of documents -a baptismal certificate, military records, pictures of me in the pre-kindergarten, a copy of my grandmother’s birth certificate that showed that she was an American citizen,” he said, adding, “and that still wasn’t enough. I knew something was wrong when they even started asking me for things like Census documents from the 1930’s that don’t even exist.”

Hernandez and the other plaintiffs say that the U.S. government is denying them passports because they are persons of Mexican and Latino descent whose births were assisted by parteras, or midwives. “The law says that if you’re born in this country, have parents who are or who get naturalized, you are a citizen,” said Hernandez his voice cracking with anger and frustration. “We were all born here. We’re all citizens. The only difference is that we’re Hispanic, we grew up poor and we happened not to be born in a hospital. My mother had to pay a partera $40 instead.”

Lawyers for Hernandez and the other plaintiffs say they have documented a systematic pattern of racial discrimination among hundreds, perhaps thousands of people of Mexican descent who, like him, applied for passports and were subjected to unreasonable and arbitrary demands for an inordinate and often impossible-to-find documents proving they are citizens of the United States.

For Robin Goldfaden, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is co-counsel in the case along with other law firms, the passport suit “shows a spirit of disregard for birthright citizenship and a reckless disregard for the actual citizenship of an entire class of people.”

Goldfaden pointed out that although midwifery is a long-held tradition among whites, blacks and others living in Appalachia, Texas and other parts of the United States where hospital-assisted birth is unaffordable or unavailable, the denial of passports is only taking place among people of Mexican descent living along the southern border.

“Some of the plaintiffs in this case were born in the 1930s and earlier, when, for example, half of all babies in Texas were delivered by midwives,” said Goldfaden, who believes that the case raises concerns beyond those raised by Hernandez and other plaintiffs. “Anytime the government violates due process and the constitutional promise of equal protection as they did in this case, we should all be concerned.”

The passport case comes on the heels of intensified efforts to fundamentally alter the definition of who is and isn’t a citizen. For several years, members of Congress and anti-immigrant groups in Texas and several other states have proposed state and federal laws denying birthright citizenship to the U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants. Some Texas residents like Father Mike Seiffert also trace such practices to the long history of denying citizenship to different categories of people in the United States.

“I was born in Alabama” said Seiffert, who is pastor of the San Felipe de Jesus Catholic church in Brownsville, “and I’ve seen this kind of discrimination before; I’ve seen government officials trying to deny rights to people by not recognizing them as citizens, only here in Texas it’s not African Americans, but Latinos.”

Seiffert became aware of the passport denial issue in his church. “After a couple of the members of my congregation came to me concerned and even crying because they were denied passports and would no longer be able to see their families in Mexico, I decided to ask the congregation if there were others facing similar situations,” Seiffert said. “And 60 people came up and said they had the same passport problem.”

He called what happened to members of his congregation affected by the passports situation “disgraceful.” Behind the tears, he said are, “Many members of our congregation (who) won’t be able to do what they’ve done for decades: cross the border to see their families; many won’t be able to sustain themselves by doing business as they’ve always done in Mexico,” he said. “There’s no hospital around here and when you drive many miles to get healthcare, it’s very expensive. So people will also be denied basic healthcare because they will no longer be able to go just across the border to get cheap medicine or see a doctor in Matamorros for $15. This is deeply disturbing and it reminds me of Alabama.”

And like in the deep South, the non-citizen profiling in Texas is also inspiring activism among many. “I grew up studying the history of civil rights, Martin Luther King and how he had to fight his own government,” said Hernandez, ” But I never thought I’d be fighting for my civil rights. Now I understand history in a different way.”

32 Responses to “Passports Denied: Mexican-Americans Can’t Travel”

  1. Frank Sifuentes Says:

    I am going through a similar issue right now. I submitted the required docs to apply (US Birth Cert w/state ID). They sent me a letter back asking for my Mexican school records. I do not know what made them automatically assume I was raised in Mexico. I never lived there and have told them the same.

    I sent them my elementary transcripts and filled out a living/education/work history form. Then they replied saying its not sufficient and have asked for items (religious, government, work related) older than 10 years. I was ~14 ten years ago. Items like that are rare and far between for me. Its not like I was registered to vote, worked or had official identification at that age. I have two months now to get this straightened or else I can’t visit my family overseas.

    What use is a U.S. birth certificate & state issued ID if it doesn’t prove that I am a US Citizen?

  2. Maricela Juarez Says:

    My mother is having the same issue. I have submitted several documents and they are now requesting a border crossing card from 1951 or prior. This has been going on since November 2007.

    My father just became a US citizen and he has obtained a passport. My mother is 2nd generation American and she is denied a passport. This makes not sense!!!

    I am from Dallas, TX. Who can assist me with this issue.

  3. John M. Alvarado Says:

    The Law must be upheld and enforced. There is no beating around the Bush and nobody should be given the run around when it comes to their rights. The State Dept. is abusing and discriminating American Citizens based solely on their race and that is pitiful. If the State Dept. wants to challenge a persons US citizenship then they better do it on solid ground and abide the LAW, not on plain ridiculous excuses. Miss Rice is responsible for that Dept. and well anybody can see that there’s something fishy going on against Mexican Americans. Either she or some big honcho in the State Dept. has got something against Mexican Americans. Looks like the plan is to turn us legal US Mexican Americans into 2nd class citizens and by golly that’s not right because there ain’t no such thing as that. We are all US Citizen, don’t matter if we’re of Oriental, African, European, Latin American or of any other descent. So either the people in the State Dept. respect the LAW, in other words or they SHAPE UP OR THEY SHIP OUT! Enough is enough, down with discrimination on anybody. The State Dept. better cut that out!

  4. John M. Alvarado Says:

    Discrimination in the State Dept. towards Mexican Americans! Shame on Miss Condoleeza Rice, guess she’s got a short memory. Hard to believe as it is nowadays, about 35 years ago, in the southern part of the United States, it was debatable whether a black person could have a drink of water in a fountain meant for whites only! Color of our skin does not make us less Americans than others. We are all Americans! When it comes to discrimination we are all connected, whites included! So down with discrimination and the State Dept stop trying to make up ridiculous excuses challenging our American Citizenship.

  5. Jorge Solis Says:

    I’ve served in the United State Marines for 8 yrs and now I’m not a good enough Citizen. But I was Good enough to bleed for this Country. God Bless America!!!

  6. Marie Avila Says:

    I have the same problem, I am trying to get my passport, but I am wating, I sent a letter explaining that I do not have all the information They are asking for, I do not if we have to do something different, something at Tv shoew, the news, because is hard for us not having the passport for next year, we will be prisioners here in USA, at least we can do something now! I am really concerned.
    I am not proud of this country right now.

  7. V.E.G. Says:

    Eugene W. Castle of Castle Films fame is not going to like this. Castle himself is part Mexican and he will roll over his grave for that reason.

  8. Josue De La Garza Jr. Says:

    I was denied a passport via mail yesterday. They want 5 kinds of credentials to pprove that I am a Citizen. Things such as newpaper articles, W-2’s Bank statements, yearbook photos with the name of the school, and my favorite “Other”

    I sent them a copy of my Tx drivers license, my Birth certificate. I was born in Pasadena, TX at a Hospital. My Parents were american citizens (natrualized years prior to my birth)

    What ticks me off is that It took them 6+ weeks to notify me of the denial. I have 90 days to provide the documentation. I have a weeding in a few weeks in deep down in Mexico that I will not be able to attend.

    This to me is a disgrace, I was a prod Replublican until yesterday. President Obamas Birth certificate was never authenticated! He has sealed them up. All I want to do is travel…

    Is there any way to join the the passport suit? My email address?

    • robvato Says:

      Sorry to hear about your troubles, Josue. If you are in a similar situation and would like to be part of the lawsuit please call 415-343-0784, or e-mail
      Not sure if there’s still a chance to join, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Hope this helps. R

    • marcell Says:

      Look i’ve done this 8 times already, U can cross tijuana, and go to the international airport, and ask for a FM3(tourist card) from immigration official, u need only proved ur a US citizen (driver lic, voting card, anything…but do it w/a smile..and maybe something to buy coffee)u get a pass for 180 days…coming back is not a problem except for a long line, just get a driver lic. electrical bill, comcast bill, DD214…anything

  9. Markosjal Says:

    There is another issue here as well. This is also happening to US Citizens born abroad. I am Mexican American born in thge USA, and my daughter was born in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. According to the law she is a Mexican AND a US Citizen by birth, however when I attempted to register her at the US consulate they demanded a “custody Order” which means I need to divorce my wife! Theyt are demanding documents that DO NOT EXIST, to establish only that my daughter has a birthright to be a US citizen.

    On another note, I have dual nationality by birth and as an adult, I chose to move to Mexico and experience the other half of my heritage. I left the USA and entered Mexico with no Passport (my birth right in BOTH countries) As I currently understand it, I can not re enter into the USA without a passport, and if I did they will require me to have a US passport TO LEAVE again to Mexico. I want no part of a government that operates in that manner. The US Govenment is getting worse than Mexico. The new passport requirements are a SCAM to control the people and say who can leave and who can not.

    I can be reacherd at the username posted here at

  10. Mayra I Viramontes Says:

    Im having the same problem. My passport was denied. I live in Kansas. When I received the letter where it says my passport was denied I just started crying. Like a lot of other Mexican Americans I have a lot of family in Mexico and all my husbands family is in Mexico so Im not going to be able to visit them anymore. I just want a solution! I dont care how much money I have to spend. Ill get a lawyer if I have too. My email adress is in case anybody has information on what I can do please email me.

  11. Momo Says:

    Hey Im Momo from Morocco, my girlfriend lives in long beach and we were about to get married here in Morocco but she couldn’t get her passport because of the same problem all those people in the web site have and they ask her to provide some crazy documents that don’t exist any more etc… We’re still together and we wish for a miracle to solve this… if there is a solution please help. Thank you so much in advance…

  12. EE Jr. Says:

    I born in Texas and I have my birth cerficate, but Im living in Mexico. I need an american passport but I have my mexican passport as well. what can I do to get an american passport?

  13. Vivek and Ludi Says:

    I am a affected party. My wife is valley born. We had our marriage arranged in India last June.
    We had to pull back the arrangements one month prior to our fly to India, when we heard that the passport was denied. We went through the lot of emotional stress and mential pain that can only be understood by the people of this forum. We had to settle down for a little marriage ceremony here in US. We are not loosing focus on our struggle to get the passport. I want ensure that my wife gets treated the way she deserves to be treated.
    We are now following through our attorney and requested our attorney to add us to David Hernandez’s lawsuit.

    Such discrimination and improper law which subdues certain section people and denies equal civil liberties will result in haunting histories for the nation. Lawmakers know this very well and US history itself is an example for it. I don’t have much say when it comes to law of this nation except to abide to it. But the victim is my wife and will try every avenue (within our means) to ensure that justice is served. Last year we were even thinking flying to Washington and staging a peaceful protest. TV shows, Radio talk shows or someway (tea parties) that gets public attention is one way that can make the government heed to our cry.

  14. Ludi Srinivasan Says:

    I have been going through this same frustrating process since 2005. I had to cancel my own wedding in India one week before. I have not met my husband’s family in India. We had to do a registered marriage only. As of June 1st when a passport is required to cross into Mexico, I won’t even be able to visit my own family. When I pleaded with Tammy Grant from the Department of State to tell me what could be done (I was going to miss my own wedding!), she gladly suggested that I start by contacting ICE and have myself deported and then I could contact USCIS and apply for a greencard. I was truly amazed – I’ve never felt such anger and helplessness.

    • Marie Avila Says:


      I would like to know who help you to do that, because I NEED a Lawyer, since I can not get my American passport, I would like to ask If I can get a green card being American, because my Husband is American Citizen.

      Thank you for your help.

  15. V.E.G. Says:

    Ben Turpin, a man of Mexican origin is not going to like this is rolling over the grave due to racism against Mexicans.

  16. LAURIE Says:

    This is not a problem afflictling only Mexican Americans. I am a 3rd generation American, have a soc. sec. card, pay taxes, own a home, am married and have 3 children.I applied for a birth certificate when I was 43 as my mother never registered my NYC home birth. To date, they have denied not only my application attempts for a BC/PASSPORT, but even my Mother’s application for a delayed Birth Certification. Despite the fact that she’s a passport holding American citizen with 3 kids besides me. I am now 45 and still do not have a passport, however, with the NYC Dept of Health’s last refusal, they requested passport sized photos of me…. what’s that all about?

  17. Marie Avila Says:

    Since I ca not to get my American passport, Who knows if I can Apply for a greencard being American Citizen?, because my Husband is American Citizen. I Do not Know what to do, please help me. Could it be possible, since I am not a mexican Citizen?

  18. Jesse Says:

    It’s definitely not just happening to people of Mexican descent. I’m a white American. Both of my parents’ families have been here for at least 150 years each. The only thing I can think of that the passport people might have taken issue with is that I don’t have a driver’s license. I live in New York, so up until about a year ago, I just had a state-issued ID card. A year ago I got a learner’s permit, which looks exactly like my ID card, only it says “learner’s permit.” When I first tried to apply, the woman at the post office told me that a learner’s permit wasn’t sufficient ID, and that I could have someone who had known me for at least two years accompany me while applying. I brought my girlfriend, and she had to show her ID and fill out a form.

    A while after submitting the proper paperwork, I got the letter requesting pretty much every detail of my entire life. It asked for the addresses, dates worked, names of supervisors, and telephone numbers of every job I’ve ever had. It also asked for every address I’ve ever lived at, every school I’ve ever attended, and the names and birthdays of all of my family members. In addition to all of that information, it requested other documents to prove my identity, including magazine articles with my name in the, yearbook photos, expired ID cards, and a lot of other random stuff. I got together as much as I could and I’m about to send it off today. Hopefully it works.

  19. vivek & Ludi Says:

    Hello Folks, Looks like a good news. DOS has agreed to fair treatment for Passport applicants of the Mexican descent.

  20. Captain Juan Jose Perez Says:

    Apparently, the lawsuit means little to the State Department. I was unable to attend my daughters wedding in Belize because my passport was not issued and I still don’t have an answer. I call the State Department frequently and I still can’t get a straight answer. I am an USAF veteran having served during the Vietnam War and am currently a Captain with the TEXAS STATE GUARD. I have two Master degrees and working on a Phd. I am employed in the largest Medical Center in the Country. It is very demoralizing that after serving your country and doing what is right you can still be a prisoner in your own country because you were born in the Texas border and are Hispanic. Although, a few of the victims are also white the vast majority are Hispanic. .

  21. Mark Says:

    With the new Passport requirements, the issuance of a Passport now needs to be a Constitutionally Protected right!

    It is the only way to have a prayer in the fight against bias and racism at high levels of government.

  22. Ludi Says:

    Today there is hearing in McAllen, TX on the lawsuite filed by Mr. David Herndez. DOJ is requesting DOS to abide by the class action settlement framed on 7/26.

  23. Jose Says:

    So does this mean I can finally get my passport? 😦 I already applied twice and was denied; even after providing all the requirements. What are the chances of getting my passport now?

  24. I am abou lossing my citzenship.i was bohn new york. thy send me aletter to respond 10 yer record with phot id.206 2930030

  25. Maria D. Garcia-Lopez Says:

    I am having the same problems listed in all the e-mails. I was born in Laredo TX in a home by midwife. I have my US VItal Records Birth Certificate and I am been told that I have to prove I was born in the US because I wasn’t born in a hospital. I have sent shot records, school transcripts and that is not sufficient, they are asking for records from 1976. My parents are deceased and I don’t know what to do. I am very stressed, please help.

    • Ana Says:

      Maria we almost have the same problem I was also born in Laredo TX to a midwife and there asking me for a huge list, what year were you born. I was adoptive were you adoptive also? I was born in 1967 what was the name of the midwife?

  26. marcell Says:

    i was denied a passport because my ex wife denied i was making payment thru the ex company i work for. they want all the checks and her signatures in the back of the check to be sent to them, but the company i work for went bankruft and does not exist anymore. helppppppppppp !!! what state in the union can i go to get issued a passport ??

  27. Candida Orta Says:

    I got a letter from the passport office today telling me that: Thank you for recent passport application. the evidence of your birth occurred, and the US citizenship or nationality you submitted is not acceptable for passport purposes for the following reason: the certificate shows that your birth was recorded more than one year after your birth occurred, and the evidence used to create the delayed birth record is not sufficient. and they go on to say please submit a certified birth certificate, for the birth certificate to be acceptable, is must—–
    1 be issued by the office of vital statistics of the state, county, or city where your birth occurred
    2 show your full name at birth
    3 indicate your date and place of birth
    4 list the full names of your parents
    5 bear the embossed, impressed, mutli-colored, or raised seal and signature of the issuing authority, and indicate a registration or file date that is within one year of your birth.

    I wrote back saying—To whom it may concern; I’m so totally confused, Basically why would I need and delayed certificate of birth if I had a birth certificate within one year of my birth, I called and the passport lady customer services department and was also confused. It is not my fault that my parents were so irresponsible, but they were native Americans and did not trust the U.S. government.
    I was born in the back seat of a car on the Fort Apache Reservation, I have contacted the reservation but they only record births of tribal members.
    I was born 6 weeks early and my parents ‘thought that I would die so the a priest came to baptized me, I have contacted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup but because the baptism happen so long ago and the speed of which it was done that they no longer have these records, but I do have my mother’s family bible showing my birth.
    My mother was born on the Big Cypress Reservation in Florida on 6/6/1940 and had ran off with my father at 14 years of age. My father was born in the Alberta Canada in the Northwest Territories on 5/15/1923, both of my parents were Native American. My father had me home schooled because we never stayed in one place long.
    I became pregnant at 19 years old and was kick out of the house and all communication was cut off, I have tried for years to locate them but to no avail, I have not seen or heard from them in 39 years and I doubt that they are alive
    I have scan and sending copies from my mother’s family bible and I’m sending you certified copies of my children’s birth certificates as well, So please send them back when you no longer need them.——-
    this is not right the way they (passport office) treat people who have no control of what their parents do or do not do. if there is help for people in my situation please help. I live day by day and I 59 years old. please help

    Reply ↓

    Additional information
    I gave them my marriage licenses– a letter from a woman that was there at my birth notarized. – edit

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