A new report alleges the Trump administration is detaining certain U.S. citizens applying for passports due to being born near the border with Mexico. Some are even being entered into deportation proceedings.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that there have been multiple American citizens whose requests for passport renewals were denied by the State Department due to questions about their citizenship status. Remarkably, this includes even military veterans. A Hispanic man named Juan from Brownsville, Texas (who reportedly withheld his last name to avoid being targeted by law enforcement) told the Post that despite three years as a private in the U.S. army and a stint as a cadet in the U.S. Border Patrol, his passport renewal application was denied.
“I served my country. I fought for my country,” Juan told the paper.
The Post‘s report also alleged that thousands of other Americans in border towns across Texas — who are predominantly Hispanic — have not only had passport renewals denied, but have even been swept up in immigration raids and deported despite being born in the United States.
In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.
According to federal court documents, one 35-year-old Texas resident said that when he and his son were trying to cross a bridge connecting Reynosa, Mexico to McAllen, Texas on their way back to their home in the U.S., a Customs and Border Protection agent confiscated his passport, forced him to admit he was born in Mexico, then entered him into deportation proceedings. The man now has a deportation hearing in 2019. His passport, which he’s had since 2008, was revoked.
“I’ve had probably 20 people who have been sent to the detention center — U.S. citizens,” Brownsville attorney Jaime Diaz told the Post.
The Trump administration denied the report’s claims, stating that there was no new official policy regarding passport applications, but that it was simply trying to fight back against fraudulent activity.
“[T]he U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud,” a State Department spokesperson told the Post. “[Applicants] who have birth certificates filed by a midwife or other birth attendant suspected of having engaged in fraudulent activities, as well as applicants who have both a U.S. and foreign birth certificate, are asked to provide additional documentation establishing they were born in the United States.”
“Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport,” the State Department added.
Whether or not the State Department has adopted new policy regarding citizens born near the Southern border remains to be seen. However, other agencies have taken a decidedly more hard-line approach to citizenship. Earlier this year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it was hiring a task force of prosecutors to examine thousands of naturalization cases to find cases in which someone applying for U.S. citizenship lied on official firms.
According to Slate, there have only been 300 examples of a naturalized U.S. citizen having their status stripped away in the last 28 years, meaning citizenship fraud is extremely rare. Russian author Masha Gessen — who fled the Soviet Union in 1981 at the age of 14 to flee persecution as a homosexual — observed that this would have a chilling effect on future applicants for citizenship.
[T]he creation of the task force itself is undoing the naturalization of the more than twenty million naturalized citizens in the American population by taking away their assumption of permanence. All of them—all of us—are second-class citizens now. The President calls immigrants “animals.” The Attorney General presumes that everyone crossing the border—or at least the southern border—is a criminal.
In addition to its efforts aimed at curbing illegal immigration, the Trump administration is attempting to stymie legal immigration as well. USA Today chronicled all the ways the federal government is curbing legal immigration to the U.S., including the revocation of Temporary Protected Status, accepting fewer refugees, granting fewer visas for foreign workers, instituting a ban on entry to the U.S. for people coming from certain blacklisted countries, and going after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While a federal judge has told the Trump administration it must uphold DACA, the Supreme Court upheld the travel ban in June.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.