For nearly two decades, Maycol Quetzecua of Austin, Minn., has lived an existence with an almost untraceable paper trail.
Sure, like many young people in America he has social media accounts, highlighting his passion for sports, music, tech gadgets, and Caribou and Starbucks coffee. On July 20, Maycol, who played tenor saxophone at Austin High School, tweeted, “I really hope Mexico and USA meet in the Copa oro Finals!” in reference to the biennial soccer tournament.
But in the eyes of the government, the 19-year-old — born without a birth certificate to parents who illegally emigrated from Mexico — is not a U.S. citizen.
Despite multiple attempts, Quetzecua has been denied a birth certificate, a passport and a Social Security number, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit against the U.S. that asks for a declaration of citizenship.
While more common in states on the Mexican border, such suits are very rare in Minnesota, immigration lawyers say. Virgil Wiebe, who supervises the University of St. Thomas Law School’s Immigration Law Practice Group, said he’d never come across a similar case.
“A reason this is time sensitive for him is he does want to go to college and get financial aid,” said Quetzecua’s attorney, Joy Beitzel of Minneapolis-based Guzior Armbrecht Maher. “Obviously, there’s a lot more benefits for citizens than undocumented kids.”
A birth goes unrecorded
Quetzecua’s story begins in January 1996, when he says he was born in an Austin apartment, about 40 miles southwest of Rochester. Like his parents, the midwife who assisted in his birth also is believed to have illegally immigrated, according to the suit filed July 15. Neither the midwife nor the parents registered the birth.
Quetzecua family members were not available for comment.
Birth records, even among Minnesota families who illegally immigrate, are commonly filed. Carmenza Preus of West Side Clinic in St. Paul said she has not come across such a case in her 18 years of social work with migrant families.
Though hospitals are prohibited from asking patients whether they’re undocumented, the fear of being deported likely explains Quetzecua’s situation, said his lead attorney. “The culture of the undocumented — you don’t do things that people would normally do,” Matthew Armbrecht said.
These days, state law explicitly requires only traditional midwives with licenses to complete a record of birth. Licensing, however, remains voluntary. “In fact, although the majority of home births in the state are attended by licensed midwives, the majority of [traditional midwives] remain unlicensed in Minnesota,” according to the 2006 book, “Mainstreaming Midwives: The Politics of Change.”
In November 2011, when he was nearly 16, Quetzecua’s parents used his school records and baptismal certificate to obtain a state-issued delayed registration of birth.
But Quetzecua’s attorneys say his grandparents had registered his birth in Mexico three years after he was born. It’s not an unusual practice, but it complicates the cause of those seeking U.S. citizenship, said Lee Terán, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.
‘They don’t understand’
In Texas, Quetzecua’s story is not unusual, said Terán, who directs St. Mary’s Immigration and Human Rights clinic. Migrants with U.S.-born children, especially poor families, she said, often think there’s less hassle in registering births in Mexico.
“They don’t understand that kind of action will come back to haunt you,” Terán said.
Between 2013 and early 2015, Quetzecua used his Minnesota birth certificate, his baptismal certificate, school district enrollment records, affidavits from his parents, a certification of birth from the midwife, an international driver’s license and a Mexican passport to apply for a Social Security card and a U.S. passport.
But on the basis of insufficient documentation, according to the suit, he was denied three times by the Social Security Administration and at least once by the State Department, which rejected and kept his Minnesota delayed birth record. A regional spokesman for the Social Security Administration, who said privacy laws prohibit discussing specific cases, said that only certain documents, including a U.S. birth certificate and a passport, are required to receive benefits.
A State Department official, who declined to discuss pending litigation, said in a statement: “We take seriously our responsibility to protect U.S. borders through the vigilant adjudication of U.S. passport applications.”
In January, according to the suit, Quetzecua asked the Minnesota Department of Health for an original birth certificate, but was told that the documents he used in 2011 to register his birth did not meet state requirements.
Person has burden of proof
Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute office at the New York University School of Law, said the burden to prove U.S. citizenship most often lies with the individual, not the government.
In 2009, the State Department agreed to new review procedures after a class-action lawsuit was filed in Texas by people delivered by midwives near the border who said they were forced to provide excessive documentation for passports, despite having American birth records.
Nevertheless, there is a history of midwives fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American, said Terán, the San Antonio professor. She believes this explains the government’s scrutinizing of midwife-related citizenship claims, especially when a birth record already has been filed in another country.
The Quetzecua case, Terán said, will come down to how much the court trusts the accounts of the parents and midwife.
“I’ve seen them sort of leave people alone,” she said, “but I’ve never seen them give an immigration or naturalization benefit to someone who has a birth certificate abroad, unless the birth certificate issued in the United States was at a hospital or predates the birth certificate abroad.”
Judging from his Twitter account, it seems Quetzecua is well aware that the decisions we make in life have consequences. “Even the smallest lie can your ruin your entire life,” he tweeted on Tuesday.