Trump’s Birther Reboot
Posted on August 31, 2018
The Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration has stepped up efforts to deny passports to people in south Texas whose American birth certificates the government suspects are fraudulent and who were really born in Mexico. One milquetoast response is to remind yourself that the government has been bringing such claims for years and that in fact some midwives and physicians had submitted fraudulent birth certificates over a period of decades. So there’s nothing to see here—just ordinary enforcement of the ordinary law.
But you can’t look at this news in a vacuum without considering the context. First: the Trump Administration has been on a mission against Latino immigration and indeed on a mission against the inevitable demographic shifts underway in the United States due to the growth in the Hispanic population. And second: for many years—long before his entrance into the race—Mr. Trump was a “birther,” a person who, whether from personal conviction or a canny understanding of what would move his political base, had a bizarre focus on documentary proof of heritage. A short-form birth certificate? Insufficient! A long-form birth certificate? Obviously forged!
In this context, it’s very worrying that we are not only asking Latinos for their papers more often than in the past, but we are increasingly discounting their papers when produced. And most people are fundamentally no better off than the targeted Latinos in south Texas when it comes to proof of their own citizenship. If someone asks me to prove where I was born, I show them my birth certificate. But of course I wasn’t there when the birth certificate was completed and can hardly vouch for its correctness! “But your parents were American!” Were they? How can I prove that?
Of course—in a particular case, if there is a real reason to suspect fraud, pursue it. But after so many years—the midwives who made the false birth reports were apparently active from the 50s to the 90s—there can’t be any real reason, at least any real legitimate reason, for the number of cases to skyrocket, as the Post’s article says. And even if the targets of these investigations aren’t deported, depriving them of their nationality is both serious in itself and a step on a path that other states walked in the last century to terrible effect.