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Women unite to expose passport double standard
Patricia Austin and Imelda Hart were brought together by passports: the one Austin had, and the one Hart was fighting for.
Because Hart was delivered in the Rio Grande Valley, where a number of midwives have been convicted of granting fraudulent birth certificates, her passport application was questioned and later denied. She was unable to convince the U.S. Department of State of her birth certificate's authenticity.
Austin, on the other hand, who was delivered by a midwife in Jackson, Tenn., received her passport in less than two weeks.
"I was born to a midwife and I didn't have this problem," Austin said. "Why are they asking so much of Imelda and not me?"
Austin was appalled by several cases like Hart's, which had become small-town news in the central Florida community where both women now live.
Together, she and Hart went to work trying to illustrate the apparent double standard: Of two women, both of whom were born to midwives, and both of whom are the daughters and granddaughters of American citizens, why is only one able to secure a passport?
They posed the question to U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Though both politicians agreed to look at Hart's case, she has yet to receive her passport after being denied in July 2007.
In the meantime, she was forced to cancel a planned honeymoon to Europe.
"Don't tell me that you're doing this to everyone born to a midwife. Don't tell me this is procedure," Hart said. "It's because I'm from the border. It's because I'm Hispanic."
In an irony not lost on Hart, the government has asked for evidence that her mother was detained upon entering the country before going into labor. The U.S. Office of Passport Services has suggested that such information might prove the legitimacy of Hart's American birth.
"My parents were here legally," she said, "and now that's being held against me."
Although Hart lived in San Benito for only the first few months of her life, her experience has provided insight into one of the region's most serious problems. In the Valley, hundreds of residents are now struggling to secure their passports.
But in Central Florida, Hart's situation is rare. The only other people she knows who have been unexpectedly denied passports were also delivered to midwives in South Texas.
"I thought border security was about keeping people out," she said, "not about keeping them in."
Just like this woman has become, we too will be prisoners of our country or worse sent to a country that we have never known.