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The Trump administration is now denying passports to American citizens. This sounds terrifying familiar.
His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.
But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.
As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.
This is unprecedented. This is unAmerican in the extreme. This is the kind of thing out of which blood-and-soil laws are drawn. (Dr. Wilhelm Stuckert, please call your office in hell.) Your papers are never in order if you happen to fit a broadly drawn racial profile. This is fascism, pure and simple.
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.
Apparently, there was some hocus-pocus done in the past regarding midwives and doctors providing babies born in Mexico with U.S. birth certificates. (This had completely escaped my attention.) The last two previous administrations wrestled with the problem and there finally was a settlement on the question with the ACLU in 2009. However, somebody whispered about the situation to some authoritarian yahoo in the administration and an old bureaucratic tangle became today’s xenophobic thuggery.
In a case last August, a 35-year-old Texas man with a U.S. passport was interrogated while crossing back into Texas from Mexico with his son at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to McAllen, Tex. His passport was taken from him, and Customs and Border Protection agents told him to admit that he was born in Mexico, according to documents later filed in federal court. He refused and was sent to the Los Fresnos Detention Center and entered into deportation proceedings.
Somebody, please, rein this lunatic in while there’s still enough of this country’s ideals worth defending.
Now, the administration appears to be taking aim at a broad group of Americans along the stretch of the border where Trump has promised to build his wall, where he directed the deployment of National Guardsmen, and where the majority of cases in which children were separated from their parents during the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy occurred. The State Department would not say how many passports it has denied to people along the border because of concerns about fraudulent birth certificates. The government has also refused to provide a list of midwives whom it considers to be suspicious.
Passports can be serious weapons in the hands of your average tinhorn tyranny. Back in the days of the Pinochet regime in Chile, over 20,000 Chilean exiles had their passports marked with an “L,” a designation that kept them out of the country. More to our purposes, in 1938, the German government invalidated all German passports belonging to Jewish citizens. By the fall, they were all issued new passports marked with a “J.” It was one of the first ways that German Jews were culled from the rest of the population and targeted. At about the same time, in the Soviet Union, passports were made mandatory as a means of internal control, as a means of keeping track of various elements of which the regime was not fond.
By common agreement, your passport tells the rest of the world who you are. I’m not sure I want the rest of the world to know that right now.