BH - Passport struggles for midwife born resident community
Passport struggles for midwife born resident community
October 25, 2008 - 8:48PM
By Fernando Del Valle, Valley Morning Star
HARLINGEN - After struggling to get a U.S. passport for more than a year, Victoria Conover said she traveled 2,000 miles in search of pieces of her life that could help her prove she was born here.
Since August 2007, she's been trying to get her passport back home in Longview, Wash., she said.
Conover, 61, said she's been a registered voter and has had a Social Security number since the mid-1960s. But she said she can't prove she's an American citizen - even though she has a U.S. birth certificate.
This month, she and her husband traveled to Harlingen, where she said she was born with the help of a midwife in her parents' home on Stuart Place Road in 1946.
For a week, they searched the Cameron County Courthouse, the county health department and the Harlingen school district for records that could help her prove she was born here, she said.
"What brought me all the way down here was proof of my parents' residency," said Conover, who contracted for 25 years with the state of Washington to work as a Spanish interpreter.
Like hundreds of Mexican Americans, she believes the U.S. State Department refused to grant her passport because she was born with the help of a midwife, Conover said.
The state department has refused passports to many Mexican Americans because officials believe some midwives forged birth records, said, Kelli Beaty, president of the Texas Midwife Association in Midland.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing the state department refused passports to Mexican Americans because they were born with the help of midwives along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The state department is claiming the right to use discretion as to how to weigh evidence (to determine) who is a U.S. citizen. It's totally arbitrary," said Lisa Brodyaga, a Harlingen attorney who helped file the lawsuit. "It's outrageous."
The state department declined comment because of the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said.
In the Rio Grande Valley, the state department's stand could deny passports to many residents born with the help of midwives, Brodyaga said.
At San Felipe de Jesus Catholic Church in Brownsville, about 60 parishioners said they were refused passports because they were born with the help of midwives, said the Rev. Mike Seifert, the church's pastor.
"Here in the Valley a passport is a necessity because many people get their medicine across the border, have family across the border or work across the border," Seifert said. "But most importantly, it's their right."
In Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, is pushing for legislation calling for "objective criteria ... to ensure all (passport) applicants are treated fairly," he said in a news release.
"We've encountered some citizens born through midwives who were not able to obtain passports," Ortiz spokesman Danny Guerra said.
Under the legislation, birth certificates would serve as "sufficient evidence" for citizens applying for passports, the news release said.
In 1944, Conover said, her father Encarnacion Ruiz left Mexico with his wife Josefina to work in the U.S. and Mexican governments' Brasero program, which brought Mexican workers into the United States.
Two years later, she was born in her parents' home with the help of midwife Josefa Medina, she said.
Conover and three of her siblings were born with Medina's help, she said. All three siblings got their passports within about nine weeks, Conover said.
But after struggling for more than a year, she can't get her passport, she said.
"After reviewing your application, it has been determined that additional documents are necessary to support your birth in the United States," the state department's Seattle Passport Agency wrote Conover on April 14.
At the county courthouse in Brownsville, she and her husband found a copy of a 1952 U.S. Census that shows her parents lived on Stuart Place Road in Harlingen in 1944, two years before she was born, Conover said.
But even the government's census might not help her, Conover said.
"Unfortunately, documents created after your birth cannot be used for passport purposes," the state department wrote her in April.
"They sent me on a scavenger hunt," Conover said.
For Conover, the search for pieces of her identity has turned into a demand for justice.
"I'm a U.S. citizen. I have a right to a passport," she said. "They're taking my rights away from me."