RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There appears to be a new effect of the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Washington Post is reporting that some American citizens who have the documents to prove their citizenship are being refused U.S. passports. Kevin Sieff reported the piece for The Washington Post, and he is on the line with us from Mexico City. Kevin, thanks for being here.
KEVIN SIEFF: Sure.
MARTIN: How is this happening? How are U.S. citizens being prohibited from getting U.S. passports?
SIEFF: So on the border now, you've got hundreds, and probably thousands, of people who are sending in their passport applications or trying to renew their passports, just like any other American would. And a few weeks after they send in their applications, they get a letter back in the mail from the State Department that says not only will they not be getting a passport, but that the U.S. government doesn't believe that they are, in fact, U.S. citizens.
And the reason the government says this is because decades ago, in the '70s and the '80s and the '90s, there were midwives along the U.S.-Mexico border who were accused of providing fraudulent birth certificates for people who were actually born in Mexico. This happened, you know, no one knows exactly how many times. And this has happened sort of periodically, decades ago.
And now, you know, after 40, 50 years, people are being - their birth certificates are actually being questioned. And in effect, the government is saying, unless you provide us with very obscure documentation to substantiate that you were born in the U.S., like your mother's prenatal care, rent agreements from the '60s and '70s - unless you can provide us those documents, we don't believe that you're actually a citizen.
MARTIN: How - I mean, that's remarkable. How are they targeting people? How do they decide who is suspicious?
SIEFF: So this issue of fraudulent birth certificates happened in a sort of - it happened mostly, or almost entirely, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and mostly on the Texas side of the border in south Texas. So the people who are being targeted are now people - are people who were born in that region. This is a region that's, you know, more than 95 percent Hispanic. It's one of the poorest parts of the United States.
So one of the issues here is that midwives were incredibly common in this region because people, in many cases, couldn't afford hospital care. And so if the U.S. government has a position now of denying passports and questioning the citizenship of people who were delivered by midwives in this region, I mean, they would be targeting tens of thousands - probably hundreds of thousands of people. It's incredibly difficult to distinguish between the few people - the relatively few people who may have obtained fraudulent birth certificates decades ago, and then the thousands of people who were born legitimately by midwives in the United States.
And I should say as well that some of these people who are now being denied passports, whose citizenship is now being questioned - these are people who served in the military, people who served in the Border Patrol, people who served in the police and people who continue to hold these positions.
MARTIN: What's the Trump administration saying about this?
SIEFF: The Trump administration has said that their policy has not changed, has not - does not differ from the Obama administration.
MARTIN: Which is true, right?
SIEFF: That is partially true. There was a settlement with the ACLU in 2009 that seemed like it took care of this issue. And lawyers tell me that, for a long time, it seemed like it was settled. And suddenly, after Trump was elected, there was a surge in cases.
MARTIN: OK. We'll keep following it. Kevin Sieff of The Washington Post, thanks so much.
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