Native Texans Sue Government for Denying Citizenship

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September 12, 2008           

Contact: Celestino Gallegos, Attorney
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director

AUSTIN, Texas – Five native Texans are suing the federal government and several employees of the State Department for denying them the benefits of U.S. citizenship even though they have provided evidence that they were born in the United States.

Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the leading provider of legal aid in Texas, Sonia Vasquez Grizzle (Austin), Norma Villarreal (Eagle Pass), Maria Romo (Sonora), Jesus Garza (Del Rio), and Dulcesnombres Lezama (Brownsville) each claim that their passport applications have been denied because the government does not believe they are natural born citizens.  All five were born by midwife in low-income rural border communities and have provided the government with documentation that they were born in the United States.

According to TRLA attorney Celestino Gallegos, “They were born in this country and have done everything possible to prove that to the government.  But they are being denied one of the basic rights of U.S. citizenship – a passport.”

The lawsuit claims that the government is violating the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution that entitles people born in the United States to all of the benefits of U.S. citizenship.

Having spent much of their lives along the border, all five residents are accustomed to traveling between Texas and Mexico on a regular basis.  In June 2009 federal law will require a passport for all travel outside the United States.  Without a passport, the residents will be restricted in their future travel plans.

“They are people without a country,” added Gallegos.  “They’re afraid that, if they leave, they won’t be allowed back in.”

TRLA expects to file several lawsuits on behalf of other individuals facing similar situations in coming months.  Individuals who have had similar problems acquiring a passport are encouraged to contact TRLA at 1-888-988-9996.

The case names are Grizzle, et al. v. Rice, et al., (W.D.Tex.Aus.Div.) and Lezama v. Rice, et al., 01:08-cv-407 (S.D.Tex.Brownsville Div. filed Sept. 10, 2008). 

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.


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