December 11, 2018

Home Birth, Citizenship and Passport

I'm going off topic in this post because I think this story needs to be told. The passport agency is rejecting birth certificates for natural born, US citizens who were born at home instead of hospitals. How do I know? It happened to me.
(Updated Nov 2018. Link to news stories I was interviewed for; Kansas Woman told Birth Certificate Wasn't Enough to Prove Citizenship and Latinos Born Outside Hospitals Face Scrutiny Over Citizenship-I will keep adding links to other stories related to this at the end as I find them.)

Some background; I was born in Kansas. I was born at home and was delivered by my dad. My dad filled out my birth certificate (properly; everyone at the Court House that day came by to help) and filed it well within the one year deadline. I have lived and worked in the US my entire life. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were/are ALL natural born US citizens. My family has been in this country since the 1600s.

Back in March 2018, I applied for a new passport. I managed to misplace my old one (which was very expired) so I sent in my properly filed and legal birth certificate (double and triple checked by several people) that meets all the passport agency’s listed requirements. This is the same birth certificate I used to register to vote and for other citizenship related things all my life and to get my first passport way back in junior high school. In April, I got a letter back from the Houston Passport Agency that said my birth certificate “does not sufficiently support your date and place of birth in the United States since your birth was in a non-institutional setting.”
The Houston passport agency requested I send a long list of additional documents most of which I could not get because they had been destroyed years ago or had never existed in the first place (for example; my parents, as citizens from birth, have never had Green Cards and my school records were destroyed, by law, four years after I graduated). The KS Vital Stats office (issued my birth certificate) was shocked to hear about this. The Vital Stats office wrote me a letter saying my birth certificate is legal, valid and complete and that KS does not require babies be born in hospitals. I sent in my parents' birth certificates. My mom filled out a birth affidavit. I copied pages from yearbooks borrowed from friends. I sent in my childhood immunization card, school awards and the land purchase form my parents filled out before I was born (showing their residency in KS). I got my Senator's office involved.
All to prove that my certified state-issued birth certificate is real.

One of the people in the Senator’s office said this was a result of the crack down on immigrants (in spite of immigrants not having US birth certificates). Another said that the passport agency is putting the burden of proof on people. Which implies that birth certificates are no longer considered proof of citizenship. At least not for everyone. After 2 miserable months with no response from the passport agency and nightmares about ICE flying me from detention center to detention center for the rest of my life, I got my passport. In an envelope dropped on the ground under my mailbox. No letter, no explanation.

Things I’ve learned or thought of as this unfolded: 
-This as been happening to people with Hispanic names in Texas for some years. Now they are expanding. This may be mainly the Houston Passport Agency and not the others. Yet.
-There was a ruling from 2009 that the passport agency (especially the Houston one) had to STOP rejecting birth certificates just because a person was born at home. The passport agency (especially the Houston one) seems to be using the phrase “non-institutional setting” to try to get around this ruling and is expanding their policy instead of stopping.
-Hispanic people are having a MUCH more difficult time dealing with this than I did. Their papers are being kept, their passports are being taken away from them, they are having their citizenship revoked without warning and they are sometimes having to wait years to get any response when they ask for help.
-People who were adopted and have sealed birth records are having similar things happen to them. As are people born outside the hospital by accident.
-The one and only thing that seems to help is to contact a Senator and have them check on your application. Repeatedly.
-People delivered by Midwives are being specifically targeted and being born in a hospital is being (unofficially but effectively) made a requirement for citizenship. In other words, they are trying to make it illegal for women to give birth outside of a hospital. In addition, people born at home are being held responsible for the suspected actions of others (we were babies when our birth certificates were filed).
-State-issued birth certificates are not considered enough proof of citizenship unless hospitals sent them in. In other words, they are suspecting State and County Court Houses (where my dad went to file my birth certificate) of fraud.
-This policy/practice will only impact people born in this country who are supposed to be citizens, no question.
-They do not list this as a possible issue so it is a "secret" requirement. 
-This is retroactive. They are telling people who have had perfectly legal birth certificates all their lives that their birth certificates are suddenly not good enough proof of citizenship any more.  
-This may be part of a wider effort to remove the born-here-you-are-a-citizen rule. There has been discussion about declaring that the children of non-citizens who are born in this country should not be eligible for citizenship. I’m not sure just where these kids would count as citizens in this case! They are also investigating birth certificates and trying to prove they are false. Which would effectively strip citizenship from people who have lived here all their lives believing they were citizens because they were born and raised here just like their parents. A link on this subject  
What to do if you get caught in this sort of situation: (you can do the paperwork or fight-both are difficult) 
1) If you have a passport, you should be able skip this nonsense. If you can’t find it, mention you had one when applying. No matter how old it is or when it expired. Fill out the form for a lost passport if you can’t find it. They keep records so even if you can't find it, they should know you had one. 
2) The office that issued your birth certificate in the state you were born can check on the validity of your birth certificate and write a letter saying it really is real. This may not be enough on it's own but it is one more form to add to your pack of papers. Send this letter in with your birth certificate when you first apply. 
3) If you get a letter demanding extra proof just because you were not born in a hospital, CALL OR WRITE your Representative and Senators and ask for help right away. Contact all three and work with whoever gets back to you. Don't worry about if you agree with their politics or not. It is their job to help with this sort of thing (there is no fee for this either). Do this even if you have the extra documentation the passport agency wants because it may not be enough. Make a stink. Let people know what is happening.
4) Get a birth affidavit from someone who witnessed your birth or can testify to when and where it happened. The local passport office should have these forms and they can be found on-line though I don't know if printing them off and filling them out is ok. (This form is called Birth Affidavit DS 10-get one with the most recent date at the top you can). They are not hard to fill out but you will need someone else to do it for you. They prefer an older blood relative or the person who delivered you but go with who you can find and fill out extras if you are worried (you should only need one BUT I know one person who needed 5 different people to fill this out for him). It has to be notarized (I went to a bank for that) or possibly the passport agent can do it when you turn in the application (the person filling it out needs to be present for that). The person filling it out needs to send in a copy of their ID with it. I don’t know if you can do this now and save it to use later or if it has to be recent. 
5) The Help Line is useless. It took them 3 weeks to get back to me. Then they just read the letter the passport agency sent to me out loud into my voicemail and hung up. They are supposed to help you figure out how to send in the requested documents but they did not help me with that at all. I resorted to making a new appointment at the local passport office to get that figured out.
6) Contact the ACLU in your state, the state where you were born, the state of the specific passport agency that rejected your birth certificate and in Texas (where the 2009 ruling took place). Tell them you believe this violates the 2009 ruling on the Fair Issuance of Passports.
7) Look for a lawyer right away. Especially if you are Hispanic or any other minority. Civil rights or immigration (yes, I know, we aren’t immigrants-but they know citizenship law). They need to know how many people this is happening to and where it is happening. And if you need them, the sooner you get in touch, the better.
8) Quote the 2009 “Fair Issuance of Passports” ruling that says the passport agency can’t reject birth certificates just because a person was born at home with a midwife. Most officials don’t seem to know about it at all (at least they didn’t mention it to me!) so make sure to bring it up.
9) Document everything. Copy what you send in. Take notes about letters, e-mails and phone calls. Have it ready in case you need a lawyer. 
10) Contact the media. This is being buried and hidden from the public eye. Don’t let them keep this quiet.

This is not just about traveling. This is about citizenship, voting and having your rights honored. Regardless of whether or not you were born in an "institutional setting" or at home. To quote the Constitution of the United States, Amendment XIV, Section 1; "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Links to other stories of this happening after the 2009 ruling: 
This person was accused of being a fraud in spite of having parents and an older sibling all citizens.  

Woman trying to get her newborn baby a passport. 

Woman born by accident at home (premature) in the 50s told to pay extra fees and forced to get census records to prove citizenship in spite of having a birth certificate. 

Woman told to send in pre- and post-natal records from the '60s and that a trial could take 8 months. 
National story (August) on this issue and how “U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.”
Arizona. Woman whose 4 and 6 year olds were denied passports in spite of having official birth certificates with state seal.
Texas. 3rd generation US citizen and veteran told birth certificate not proof of citizenship.
Midwives Alliance of North America statement on the practice of denying passports to those born outside of institutions.

Link to 2009 ACLU ruling on Fair Issuance of Passports

Someone recently asked how the Passport Agency knew I was not born at a hospital (comment section is not working right so I'm answering here).
Kansas birth certificates have a place asking for place of birth, either hospital or address. My parents' home address, at that time, is in that slot since they were being truthful and honest.
Each state's birth certificate is laid out differently and ask slightly different things. They also change over the years. For example, they used to ask if the baby was "legitimate" or not (my parents' birth certificates both have that question) but most states don't ask that any more.