Trump’s Birther Reboot

The Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration has stepped up efforts to deny passports to people in south Texas whose American birth certificates the government suspects are fraudulent and who were really born in Mexico. One milquetoast response is to remind yourself that the government has been bringing such claims for years and that in fact some midwives and physicians had submitted fraudulent birth certificates over a period of decades. So there’s nothing to see here—just ordinary enforcement of the ordinary law.

But you can’t look at this news in a vacuum without considering the context. First: the Trump Administration has been on a mission against Latino immigration and indeed on a mission against the inevitable demographic shifts underway in the United States due to the growth in the Hispanic population. And second: for many years—long before his entrance into the race—Mr. Trump was a “birther,” a person who, whether from personal conviction or a canny understanding of what would move his political base, had a bizarre focus on documentary proof of heritage. A short-form birth certificate? Insufficient! A long-form birth certificate? Obviously forged!

In this context, it’s very worrying that we are not only asking Latinos for their papers more often than in the past, but we are increasingly discounting their papers when produced. And most people are fundamentally no better off than the targeted Latinos in south Texas when it comes to proof of their own citizenship. If someone asks me to prove where I was born, I show them my birth certificate. But of course I wasn’t there when the birth certificate was completed and can hardly vouch for its correctness! “But your parents were American!” Were they? How can I prove that?

Of course—in a particular case, if there is a real reason to suspect fraud, pursue it. But after so many years—the midwives who made the false birth reports were apparently active from the 50s to the 90s—there can’t be any real reason, at least any real legitimate reason, for the number of cases to skyrocket, as the Post’s article says. And even if the targets of these investigations aren’t deported, depriving them of their nationality is both serious in itself and a step on a path that other states walked in the last century to terrible effect.

2 thoughts on “Trump’s Birther Reboot”

  1. There is an issue that is not frequently addressed. Many Mexican-Americans that were born prior to the late 90’s, were likely registered in both countries, even if they were born in the US. It had to due with property and inheritance issues in Mexico. This is very common in border towns and cities along the northern border of Mexico.

    The reason? There is a restriction for foreigners to acquire property in the so called restricted zone, 50 kms in the coastal zone, and 100 from the borders. Out of concern that they would lose the right to inherit property, or for other reasons (attending school in Mexico), many children born in the US would also be registered in Mexico, stating that they were born in Mexico. This has caused problems when the US authorities find out. They claim that the US document was fraudulently obtained, when quite often it is the Mexican certificate that was obtained with false information.

    The phenomenon has reduced substantially since the Mexican Congress enacted changes in the late 90’s to the Constitution broadening the right to acquire Mexican Citizenship to those born abroad to Mexican parents. Further, they do not need to renounce their foreign citizenship when they become of legal age (18). This used to be required to obtain a Mexican Passport.

    1. Thanks, Alejandro, that’s very interesting! I do not think the equities are really in favor of people who find that their own fraud has gotten them into trouble, but in such cases it is the parents, not the children, who are at fault, so it seems clearly unjust to turn these cases into a new enforcement priority, even when there has been fraud such as you describe, and particularly in the context of the Trump administration’s overall policy on immigration.

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