The first time that María was told that she couldn’t get a birth certificate for her Texas-born infant daughter, she shrugged it off. The 41-year-old mother of five had arrived at the state registrar’s office late in the afternoon, and the clerk seemed harried. “When you’re at work all day and you’re tired and frustrated, you don’t want to deal with people, so you just say, ‘No, come back later,'” María reasoned. “I thought that’s what it was.”
So María, who asked that only her first name be used because of her immigration status, returned to the same office in the border city of McAllen, Texas to try again. She presented her Mexican passport and her matrícula, an identification card issued by the Mexican consulate, to corroborate that she was indeed the mother of her young daughter. But this clerk was equally unmoved. “Come here with someone who has a Texas ID,” she was told.
In her 14 years in America, María had been rewarded for her persistence. She’d arrived in 2001, fleeing an abusive husband — three children in tow, another soon to be on the way. She didn’t have a plan, and, at first, she was living in the deepest depths of poverty. For housing, she and her four children lived in a little shed next to a pig-pen. For work, she took cleaning jobs, earning $20 a day. But slowly, she’d built a life. She saved up enough to buy a car. She learned how to install irrigation pipes and paint houses. She began charging her own rates, and doing much better. (“I said, Wow, I’m making this money pretty fast!’ It made me happy,” María told me.) By the time her eldest son — who had been deported as a teenager — started attending college in Monterrey, Mexico, María was making enough money that she could pay for his tuition.
But now, Maria needed help. Trying to get her youngest child’s birth certificate for a third time, María asked an Anglo-Texan friend to accompany her to the registrar’s office. Since her friend had U.S. government ID and could vouch for her identity, Maria was hopeful they could navigate the red tape together. This time, María insisted, they would go right after the office opened. “We wanted to catch people there in a good mood,” she says, “but it was the same thing. They wanted a Texas ID or a U.S. visa.”