FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 13, 2009
On Jan. 20, 1946, a midwife delivered me in the Texas border town of Brownsville. This was not an uncommon happenstance, particularly at the time, when many women delivered their children at home with the assistance of such a health care provider.
Most of these midwives were honest, caring women with a great deal of expertise that proved invaluable to mothers. To this day, midwives continue to provide care not only along the Texas-Mexico border, but throughout the country and of course, in other nations.
What is unfortunate and has become prominent in the media are stories of passport denials because applicants born at home cannot produce official birth certificates. Claims of fraud whereby midwives may have falsified birth documents have compounded the problem for many.
Fortunately, my Catholic baptismal certificate, school records, lifelong residence in Cameron County, along with my status as an elected official enabled me to obtain a passport without difficulty. This is not so for many.
I regularly hear horror stories from people of all ages, incomes and education levels who are struggling through the maze of bureaucracy and inevitable distrust to try to obtain a passport.
In one instance, I knew of a young man who after a lengthy time that mainly involved submitting what seemed endless documents, finally obtained his passport. His twin brother, who lives in Houston where a federal office to handle these matters is located, was denied a passport. I'm no medical expert, but I'm pretty sure if a twin was born on American soil, his brother should have been also.
Yet the inconsistencies, unfairness and costs continue. Denied applications must be resubmitted. An application runs anywhere from $35 to $100, depending on the person's age, when applying in person and a little less by mail. (Some reports indicate fees are waived or lowered when resubmitting.)
If this isn't burdensome enough, people from the South Texas area must travel hundreds of miles to Houston for help in applying for passports.
Some media accounts have reported there are plans for opening a federal office to handle passport applications in the Rio Grande Valley.
Opening a South Texas location would eliminate the trips to Houston for many South Texans, and perhaps ease the backlog at the Houston center. I urge our South Texas Congressmen to continue to pursue this goal until it is realized.
In the meantime, I urge the federal government to streamline the passport application process, including the elimination of endless requests for additional documents when enough proof is provided, and to remove all barriers of discrimination and distrust against those delivered by midwives.
Conversely, any case of fraud should be fully investigated and prosecuted to the law's extent.
In the meantime, we continue to hear pleas for help. At the state level, we do what we can but feel pretty helpless, since passports are exclusively a federal matter.
The state has no jurisdiction over the issuance of passports, so my efforts are mostly verbal and written pleas for the federal government to step up to the plate and recognize the suffering and stress of many Americans who happened to have been born at home.
I urge the public to be patient and to obtain as much documentation as possible that proves American citizenship when applying for a passport without official birth records. And I urge our friends in D.C. to please streamline the process and increase impartiality in the decision-making.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.