Were they scared off by the popularity of box-to-belly cesarean slashing and vacuum suction, or were they motivated by poverty or tradition? Whatever the reason some Mexican-American women have for avoiding hospital childbirths, they certainly couldn’t have foreseen the world of confusion their home birth would one day create for their little ones.
How could they know that in the near future the U.S. State Department would go to war with midwifery?
That’s what a trio of recently filed federal lawsuits allege by portraying a pattern of denials aimed at midwived Texans of Mexican-American heritage.
With new travel requirements wrought by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative drawing near, many of those trying to secure a passport by the June 2009 deadline are finding themselves suddenly without a country.
“They’re making all these people jump through an incredible number of hoops, and even after they have jumped through those hoops, they say, ‘Well, you know, either you didn’t respond or you didn’t respond fully, so we’re filing your case without further action,” said Lisa Brodyaga, the lead attorney in a federal lawsuit co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. Having one’s case filed “without further action,” is akin to being cast into a “big black hole,” she said.
Sonia Vasquez Grizzle was pushed into that hole this year after she sought a passport to join her daughter on a church-related mission trip to Indonesia.
Though born in Brownsville, her first three years thereafter were spent with her family in Rio Bravo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. At age 3, her mother became a legal permanent resident of the United States and the family settled in Harlingen, where Vasquez Grizzle graduated from high school before moving on to the University of Texas to earn a degree in 1991.
Hoping to accompany her daughter to Indonesia, she went to the San Marcos City Hall in January and filled out a passport application. A frustrating interview at the Houston passport office followed, in which she was told that her application had been dumped because the midwife who delivered her was on a “suspect midwife list.”
Her case was “filed without further action” and she was referred by the passport office to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. At CIS (formerly INS) she was told the agency could not help since “she was already a U.S. Citizen,” according to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month by Texas RioGrande* Legal Aid.
Bounced back to the passport office, she was then accused of having her birth certificate falsified. When she offered to pay for a federal search of Mexican birth records, the passport agent balked.
Passport applications have been rising steadily since leveling off at 7 million in 2002. After experiencing several years of regular increases, the State Department received 12 million applications in 2006. Then came the wave of ’07 — when a whopping 18.2 million applications roared in. (Numbers for the current fiscal year will be released in a few weeks.)
While ACLU attorneys call the State Department behavior evidence of “race-based suspicion,” other news accounts have quoted State Department officials suggesting there is a reason to look critically at midwives.
Brodyaga admitted there have been problems.
“There were during the ’80s a few midwives who registered babies falsely. What the State Department is doing now is imputing that to everybody and making totally outrageous demands of everyone who was born in a non-M.D. setting,” said Brodyaga, whose office, Refugio del Rio Grande Inc., joined the ACLU in the class-action lawsuit along with the ACLU of Texas and the law firm Hogan and Hartson LLP. “That includes home births of all kinds, midwife births, and even some clinics staffed by doctors who have midwives on call.”
An Immigration and Naturalization Service report cited by The Washington Post in a recent story suggests manipulative midwives have proved a greater problem than Brodyaga suggests, with at least 65 midwives convicted of fraud since the 1960s. It is unclear how many doctors or hospital officials have been convicted of similar offenses during the same time period. An agency spokesperson failed to respond to the Current’s questions beyond providing passport-application statistics.
However, Cy Ferenchak, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, told the Brownsville Herald several months ago, “Normally, a birth certificate is sufficient to prove citizenship … But because of a history of fraudulently filed reports on the Southwest border, we don’t have much faith in the `midwife-granted` document.”
The ACLU lawsuit includes nine plaintiffs. TRLA’s two lawsuits cover five.
Cynthia Martinez, communications director for the TRLA, said that many of those being denied passports didn’t have access to professional medical care because of remote locations or lack of funds.
Both nonprofit legal oufits say they expect more activity in the months ahead as news of the cases spreads.
Individuals who have had similar problems acquiring a passport are encouraged to contact the TRLA at 1-888-988-9996 or email the ACLU at email@example.com.
* Originally reported as "Rural." Insensitive, harried reporter's finger-brains' failing exposed. Corrected 9/17/08.