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Congressman Joaquin Castro

Representing the 20th District of Texas

CHC, HFAC to Pompeo: Halt Inappropriate Passport Denials to American Citizens

Sep 7, 2018
Press Release

Members Demanded State Dept. Review This Practice, Provide Written Responses to Congress

WASHINGTON—Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), a member of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Intelligence and Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ First Vice Chair; Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led 24 Democratic lawmakers in urging the U.S. State Department to halt all inappropriate denials of passports to U.S. citizens of Hispanic American descent. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Members specifically demanded that the State Department review this practice immediately following reports that passports were denied to Hispanic-American citizens along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.

“Denying passports to this majority Latino population appears to be discriminatory, a denial of due process, and a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution. We demand that you review this practice immediately and halt all inappropriate denials of passports to these American citizens,” the Members wrote.

The Members continued: “The denial or revocation of a passport limits the right of American citizens to travel, and may strand them in a foreign country without the ability to return home.  Some have even entered deportation proceedings.”

Other co-signers include Reps. Darren Soto (FL-09); David N. Cicilline (RI-01); Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04); Filemon Vela (TX-34); Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32); Albio Sires (NJ-08); Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38); Dina Titus (NV-01); Ben Ray Luján (NM-03); Brendan F. Boyle (PA-13); Karen Bass (CA-37); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40); Juan Vargas (CA-51); Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44); Ted Deutch (FL-22); Norma J. Torres (CA-35); Ruben J. Kihuen (NV-04); J. Luis Correa (CA-46); Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03); Ted W. Lieu (CA-33); and Pete Aguilar (CA-31).

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

September 6, 2018

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We are deeply concerned about reports that the U.S. Department of State is denying passports to Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Denying passports to this majority Latino population appears to be discriminatory, a denial of due process, and a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.  We demand that you review this practice immediately and halt all inappropriate denials of passports to these American citizens.

The Washington Post reports that State Department is denying passports, including renewals, to many individuals born in the U.S. between the 1950s and 1990s along the Southern border.[1]  Department officials allege that some of these babies were issued fake documents by certain midwives and physicians.  If the State Department suspects a birth certificate to be fraudulent, the Department then requires that these applicants produce a host of other documents that no other passport applicant is required to produce.  These documents may include birth announcements, baptismal records, and school records.[2]  Even if an individual is able to produce these documents, the government may still find them insufficient to prove citizenship. 

In light of this report, please respond in writing to the following questions:

  1. How many passports have been denied on grounds of alleged fraud since 2017?  Please break down by the state of residence of the applicants and a month-by-month timeline of such denials.
  2. How many of those denied were previously issued U.S. passports?
  3. We understand that the Department maintains a list of birth attendants who are alleged to have issued fraudulent birth certificates in the past.  What evidence does the Department use to formulate this list?  How often is the list updated?  How do passport applicants rebut this presumption of fraud if they have been issued a birth certificate by a birth attendant on this list?  Please detail what secondary documents are acceptable and how they are weighed.
  4. In how many cases did the Administration reject a renewal or issuance of a passport based on a lack of evidence provided by individuals, as opposed to affirmative proof of fraud as provided by the administration?
  5. What is the breakdown in ethnicity of individuals who have had their passports denied under allegations of fraud since 2017
  6. How many pending hearings are there for passport denials and revocations? Please break down by state of residence of the applicant and the reason cited for such denial.
  7. How many referrals has the Department of State received from the Department of Homeland Security regarding the validity of a passport, how many of those cases has the State Department investigated, and how many such investigations have resulted in the revocation or denial of a passport?
  8. Once a passport is revoked or after an individual has been denied a passport, what U.S. government agencies have access to information regarding the revocation or refusal to issue a passport?
  9. How many American citizens have been put into deportation proceedings after their passport has been revoked?
  10. Does the Department keep passport issuance, adjudication and denial information in an electronic database? Is information able to be disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, location and other metrics? If not, will the Department make an effort to electronically capture such information going forward?

The denial or revocation of a passport limits the right of American citizens to travel, and may strand them in a foreign country without the ability to return home.  Some have even entered deportation proceedings.  The State Department in previous years granted passports that affirmed some individuals’ citizenship, yet they were denied the opportunity to renew their passport.  This is unacceptable.

Sadly, this is not the first time an administration has denied passports to U.S. citizens.  For example, in 2008 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the Department’s practices and successfully negotiated a more equitable and transparent procedure.  In the agreement, the State Department allowed claimants to re-apply for passports without a fee, agreed to revise its standards for passport review, and implemented a three-member panel to review denied applications.[3]  The State Department today, as before, should demonstrate to Congress and to the American public that they are not summarily denying passports to Americans along the border. 

This problem almost exclusively affects the Latino community along the United States’ southern border, and as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we are committed to the protection of this community and the fair application of laws to all.  We look forward to your prompt reply and action to reverse the severe harm caused to this population.

Sincerely,

 

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