BH - Harlingen veteran joins ACLU lawsuit over midwives and passport denial
Harlingen veteran joins ACLU lawsuit over midwives and passport denial
September 14, 2008 - 10:49PM
David Hernandez's story could hardly be more all-American.
He's the grandson of a U.S. citizen and a veteran of the U.S. Army. He grew up in a Harlingen home where American flags and Van Halen banners were given equal wall space.
But because he was delivered by a midwife in South Texas, the government is now denying Hernandez a passport, claiming that his birth certificate might have been fraudulently provided.
Hernandez is one of thousands of Texans now being denied passports because of the State Department's suspicions. But his case is unique, exposing the disjunction between federal agencies.
How is it possible, Hernandez wants to know, that he was able to enlist in the military and serve overseas only to return to the United States and be told that he is not a U.S. citizen?
"It's a sad day in America for me," he said. "I served in the military, I pledged allegiance all my life. And now I can't get a passport because of where and how I was born."
Hernandez is now one of nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the federal government. Though it pained him to take legal action against the country for which he served, he felt he had no option.
"This isn't just about me," he said through tears. "This is about all of the other U.S. citizens who can't get their passports. I decided I had to step up."
In 1985, when Hernandez was 21, he went to an Army recruiting office in Harlingen. He handed over his birth certificate and completed a physical exam. He waited until his enlistment was official before telling his mother.
"I joined because I love my country," he said. "I wanted to give back a little of what it had given to me."
A few months later, he was in Fort Sill, Okla. for basic training. From there, he shipped off to Germany, where he served on a U.S. Army base for two years.
Army recruiters never questioned Hernandez's citizenship. His birth certificate was all they needed to see.
"If someone had proof of citizenship that looked legitimate and was issued by the proper authority, we would have accepted it," said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command Head-quarters in Fort Knox, Ky. "If something seemed questionable, we probably would have dug further."
But 23 years later, the State Department is second guessing the legitimacy of Hernandez's birth certificate.
"Because of a history of fraudulently filed reports on the Southwest border, we don't have much faith in the (midwife-granted) document," Cy Ferenchak, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, told The Brownsville Herald in July.
Hernandez isn't the only veteran affected by the policy. U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, has received letters from a number of veterans who are being denied passports.
"This is a problem that is being seen in cities all across the Texas border," Ortiz said on Thursday. "Some of these tax-paying people served in the military or were law enforcement officials and every consideration should be made on their behalf."
The ACLU lawsuit highlights the conflicting federal policies plaguing David Hernandez. Like many other border residents, he says, he is American-enough for one federal agency, but not for another.
"It's terrible feeling. Like I've been trampled underfoot."
Now Hernandez is navigating the gray area, hoping to find a solution before the government requires a passport for all cross-border travel.
He already sent a copy of his Honorable Discharge Certificate to the U.S. Passport Center. He wonders what additional evidence he can provide.
The photo of the young man in military fatigues smiling in front of an American flag?
A snapshot of the long-haired guitarist performing at Harlingen High School?
Hernandez's photo album is full of such quintessentially American images.
"What else can I show them?" he asks. "What else do they need to see?"