Obama Administration Caves on Questionable Border-Area Passports

By David North on August 27, 2010

It has been known along the southern border for decades that some birth certificates, particularly in rural areas, were both suspect and likely to be used in U.S. passport applications.

Not all midwives and rural county clerks were beyond suspicion.

But what better way for illegal aliens, usually of Mexican extraction, to obtain instant legalization than to obtain State Department-issued U.S. passports?

Now the Obama administration has agreed to drop time-honored administrative practices aimed against such questionable documents, just the Department of Homeland Security is dismissing well-documented deportation cases of people with lesser criminal records, as noted by Mark Krikorian in a recent blog.

At least the administration is being consistent. Both decisions open the way for piecemeal legalization of persons who no longer have to wait for a congressionally created amnesty program.

In this instance the administration worked out a class action settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit, Amalia Ramirez Castelano et al. v. Hillary Rodham Clinton et al., had been pending in the McAllen Division of the Federal District Court of the Southern District of Texas. (Secretary Clinton is named because the Passport Office is part of her department, but the suit was filed years earlier.)

A draft settlement is before the district judge; such settlements are usually approved.

Admittedly many people were ushered into life by honest midwives in rural Texas, but the government encountered enough problems with bad passport applications over the years that it, understandably, took precautionary measures.

The settlement, being a text agreed to by the ACLU and the Obama administration, is not very forthcoming about the problematic nature of some of the passport applications, but some indications pop up now and then in the 72-page document. For example:

  • The plaintiffs ". . . have alleged that the Department of State has engaged in a policy, pattern, and practice of categorically applying heightened security to a class of passport applicants whose births in Southwestern border states were attended by midwives or birth attendants or whose citizenship is claimed through a parent whose birth in a Southwestern border state was attended by a midwife or birth attendant . . . "

  • The State Department apparently has a little list, the "SBA List . . . on which appear the names of midwives and/or birth attendants (referred to as Suspect Birth Attendants) who have been convicted of birth certificate fraud and/or who the Department has a reasonable suspicion of having engaged in birth certificate fraud . . ."

The department, in appropriately legal terms, agrees to back off its heightened scrutiny of these applications and to adopt a "more likely than not" standard of evidence; it will re-examine some prior cases and engage in outreach to make sure that everyone who might profit from this settlement knows about it.

The department also agreed to issue passports to those applying or to send them a formal rejection letter. In the past, apparently, the Passport Office sometimes simply regarded a questionable application as "abandoned" and filed it away without contact with the applicant, a labor-saving but cowardly practice.

The administration's decision to be more generous with a class of passport applications, through a court settlement, and its decision to be equally generous with a large group of potential deportees have something in common. They take place at the outer edge of public knowledge and debate; they do not involve votes in Congress, arguments in a court room, or even a printed notice in the Federal Register. They are formally on the record, but each is a nearly-silent fait accompli.