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In Texas, Birthright Citizenship Already Entangled in Legal Battle

Image: Chris DuCharme

In a July 1, 2015 photo, Chris DuCharme focuses on and follows one of the Red Tail Hawks as it circles the top of the State Capitol's dome in Austin, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Rodolfo Gonzalez / AP

As 2016 presidential candidates spar over birthright citizenship, Texas has been embroiled in a battle over the claim to American citizenship of U.S.-born children of immigrants.

As NBC News Latino reported in May, a civil lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Austin over the state’s denial of birth certificates to U.S. citizen children on the border whose parents can’t provide required identification.

Six U.S.-born children and their Mexican citizen mothers who lack legal status were the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project. The lawsuit has since expanded to 17.

The state has said it is enforcing laws already on the books requiring specific types of identification that the women don’t have. The state says it does not accept the Mexico government-issued matrícula consular ID card from parents wanting to obtain their child’s birth certificate.

Families have also said they have been unable to present non-U.S. passports to obtain the birth certificates.

“We have a system in Texas in which people who are born here are being relegated to a second-class status because of who their parents are,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. The state's elected offices are held by Republicans and the attorney general, Ken Paxton, who has been enforcing the identification requirement, is Republican.

Paxton is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit saying the court has no jurisdiction over claims against the state's health department.

The issue of birthright citizenship – the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship to people who are born in the U.S. – blew up the campaign trail this week. Several Republican candidates, though not all, have called for a repeal of birthright citizenship ,which has its roots in the Constitution’s 14th amendment – passed to protect black American citizens following the Civil War.

RELATED: Latinos Outraged By 'Anchor Baby' Term, See As Offensive

On Thursday, the debate over birthright citizenship intensified over the use of the term “anchor baby” to refer to U.S. citizens whose parents are immigrants. Although the term is largely used to refer to children of immigrants here illegally, it also has been used to refer to those born to parents who enter the country using the country’s legal entry processes.

Jeb Bush, who used the term along with Donald Trump, planned to be in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where many of the families are from, to visit the border city of McAllen on Monday.

Last month, a majority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote a letter to U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting an investigation into Texas birth certificate denials. The commission has also asked Texas’ interim health commissioner about the birth certificate denials and is considering whether to investigate.

“If such denials are taking place, a federal court could hold that the State of Texas violated the constitutional rights of these children, regardless of the nature of their parent’s immigration status,” the commission said in a statement.

“Denial of this basic constitutional right to these most vulnerable of U.S. citizens is a further example of intolerance and xenophobia that must not be allowed to stand," Martin Castro, the commission’s chairman said in the statement.

The Texas situation had hit the 2016 campaign trail before this week. Late last month, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called on the state’s health office to “cease this discriminatory and unconstitutional practice immediately.

“Citizenship is a human right,” O'Malley said.

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