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November 12, 2018

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To Trump team, Latinos just aren’t American

President Donald Trump’s bigoted hatred of Latino immigrants has been clear from the beginning. Now his administration is aggressively persecuting Latino citizens as well.

It is hard to be shocked anymore, given the multiple daily outrages committed by Trump and his minions, but a recemt report by The Washington Post was jaw-dropping: In the borderlands of southern Texas, the State Department is denying passports to hundreds and perhaps thousands of men and women who have official birth certificates demonstrating they were born in the United States.

In some cases, valid passports have been confiscated and revoked, their holders stranded in Mexico, unable to come home. In other cases, people have been arrested, sent to detention centers and slated for deportation. Imagine how they and their American families must feel — and how their distress must make Trump and his fellow xenophobes feel warm inside.

Denial of passports effectively renders the victims stateless — meaning they cannot travel outside the country, because they would not be re-admitted — and potentially vulnerable to being deported. Again, these are people who have government-issued birth certificates, long accepted as gold-standard proof of citizenship. The Trump administration simply doesn’t see Latinos as full-fledged Americans.

The Post quoted a 40-year-old man named Juan — he didn’t want his last name used for fear of being targeted — who has a birth certificate stating he was born in the Texas border city of Brownsville. He served his country for three years in the U.S. Army, then was a cadet in the Border Patrol, and now works as a Texas state prison guard. But when he applied to renew his passport this year, the State Department responded with a letter saying it didn’t believe he was a citizen.

It is important to understand that for Americans who live along the border, a passport is a necessity. People flow back and forth across the Rio Grande all the time to work, make business deals, see family or perhaps just try out a trendy new restaurant. The border is not like the Berlin Wall, though evidently Trump would like it to be.

There is a backstory: In the 1990s, several Texas midwives admitted accepting bribes to falsely claim that some Mexican infants were born in the United States. These same midwives, however, also delivered many more Latino babies, at least tens of thousands, who were legitimately born in the United States. From official records, it is impossible to tell the difference.

The Trump administration appears to be denying passports simply because the applicant is Latino, was born in south Texas and was delivered by a midwife — something the federal government explicitly promised not to do in a 2009 court settlement with the ACLU.

The administration claims there has been no change in policy. But the Post quoted immigration lawyers who say there has been a dramatic surge in passport denials.

In Juan’s case, the State Department demanded he produce documents including proof of his mother’s prenatal care in the United States, his baptismal certificate and rental agreements from when he was an infant. He managed to find some of this obscure material — and yet his passport application was denied a second time.

A military veteran who served his country was told that it isn’t his country after all.

Think how you would feel if this nightmare were happening to you. Like everyone else, you have no memory of the details of your birth. You only know what your parents have told you and what the official records say, all of which is almost surely true. Suddenly, because of your Latino heritage, your core identity is challenged and your right to live in the United States is threatened.

If the government had specific evidence that an individual’s birth certificate was falsified, then we could have a debate about the right thing to do. But this administration is assuming that a person of a certain ethnicity, recorded as being born in a certain part of the country and meeting other unspecified criteria, is de facto not a citizen — and has the burden of proving otherwise.

At this point, the Trump administration has the burden of proving this is anything other than vile, unadulterated racism.

Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. His administration cruelly separated nearly 3,000 Central American children from their families and seeks to make their parents ineligible for asylum. His clear message to would-be Latino immigrants is: No admission.

And now, an equally blunt message for lifelong Latino citizens: Go away.

Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post.