Originally published by The NY Times
In February of 2012, I stood pregnant outside our Arizona farmhouse, staring at a wide desert sky pinpricked with stars. The baby had dropped and my belly was as hard as a stone. Near midnight, I labored inside the house in an inflatable kiddie pool with crayon-colored fish stamped on the sides. While I pushed and screamed my head off, their cartoon faces smiled back at me, and then my son slid out into the arms of my midwife. Two years later, the same midwife caught my second son, who surprised us all when he made his way out onto the floor of the bathroom.
My sons have never been outside the United States, but their passport applications were denied by the State Department, pending more evidence of their citizenship, just hours after news broke that the Trump administration is denying thousands of passport applications submitted by midwife-delivered American applicants from border states.
At the heart of the denials are allegations that home-birth attendants in border states provided fraudulent United States birth certificates to babies who were actually born in Mexico. The Bush and Obama administrations routinely denied passports to babies delivered by midwives in Texas for similar reasons, resulting in a 2009 class action lawsuit litigated by the American Civil Liberties Union. It argued that the government “was violating the due process and equal protection rights of virtually all midwife-delivered U.S. citizens living in the southern border region.” The government settled, agreeing to develop new protocols that would no longer discriminate against those from border states who were born at home. But The Washington Post now reports a spike in such passport denials to Hispanics under the Trump administration.
The letters from the Department of State are addressed to my children, who have the Hispanic last name of their father. They are age 4 and 6 and not yet able to read. They say that “the evidence of U.S. citizenship or nationality you submitted is not acceptable for passport purposes,” and that “the document you submitted does not sufficiently support your date and place of birth in the United States since your birth was in a non-institutional setting.”
In the case of both of my children, the “document” that does not sufficiently support their citizenship is an original, official birth certificate with the seal. Yet the State Department is now requesting a slew of other evidence, including religious and health records created in the first year of birth, early school records, birth certificates from any older siblings and parents’ tax, rent or employment records from the time of the birth.
To live in the borderlands is to live on a seam, in a space where two things connect. In this place, we often witness the moments when obscure high-level policies collide with the lives of actual human beings. Here, noncitizens have been abused and exploited in horrific ways — families seeking asylum have been separated from one another, and migrants have been intentionally funneled into the most dangerous and remote parts of the desert, sometimes to their deaths.
The denial of passports to those delivered by midwives in border states is the latest erosion of American citizens’ rights in the misguided obsession to militarize and seal the United States-Mexico border. Rural residents must stop at border security checkpoints just to go to school or the grocery store. Tribal members are surveilled while participating in ceremonies and harassed while harvesting traditional foods.
There are countless reasons I chose to give birth at home with a midwife. I was not a high-risk prenatal patient. I wanted autonomy — to walk around while in labor, not to be bothered by or restricted by machines or tubes, to eat something other than ice chips if I felt like it. We also lived in a rural area 90 minutes from the nearest hospital with a labor and delivery center, a distance that I imagined would be pure hell to travel while in labor. And I wanted to be able to crawl into my own bed at the end of it all, baby in my arms, and go — sort of — to sleep.
My burden is not nearly that of others. I have access to a computer, the internet and a printer for collating six years of tax records, W-9s and rental agreements. I have a flexible job as a freelancer and unlimited cellphone minutes to sit on hold with government agencies. If I have to, I will pay an attorney to make sure my children get their passports.
In the moments after my first son was born, someone snapped a picture. In it, he is the purple of just-borns and covered in vernix, his mouth turned down in a pout that I recognize today — and I look flushed and shellshocked by the ordeal, staring down at him in awe. In a sense, it is as much evidence of his existence as any baptismal document or tax record. I might as well submit the gnarly birth photos, the placenta forgotten in my freezer and a map of the stars as they appeared from the Arizona desert on the nights my children were born.