Invisible In Two Countries
January 04, 2013

EL PASO, Texas -- Everyone needs a sense of place in life. Now imagine living without an identity. No country, no name, not even fingerprints. Officially you don't exist.

That's the reality for millions of Mexicans who lack a birth certificate. It's the subject of a story I recently reported for Fronteras Desk. What I didn't elaborate on is how this problem spills over into the United States.

A birth certificate is the first form of identification in most countries around the world. Without it, it's hard to get any other form of ID. In Mexico, people without a birth certificate can't get a school diploma, can't vote or legally marry, among many other things.

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Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe
At about 80 years old, Brijida Mata Luna only recently applied for a birth certificate. She never finished school and doesn't know how to read or write.

When people in that situation immigrate illegally to the United States, what do you think happens? Suddenly they are doubly undocumented, invisible in two countries.

The implications can be severe. Let's say you are unregistered in Mexico and an illegal immigrant in the United States and want to go to college. The Mexican consulate sometimes offers scholarship money. Of course, to be eligible you must prove you are a Mexican citizen.

What if you were doubly undocumented and wanted to file taxes? The Mexican consulate offers identification cards known as a matricula consular. With that ID you can apply for a Federal Tax ID number. Should the U.S. Congress ever enact immigration reform, a good tax record could work in your favor. But without the ID, you're stuck.

Things get especially complicated when doubly undocumented people are arrested by immigration officials and put into deportation proceedings. They have little or no way to prove they are citizens of their home country.

Be Foundation Mexico

The BE Foundation, based out of Mexico City, is a nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of unregistered Mexicans. They are currently touring the United States to raise awareness about this issue.The face of their campaign is Mexican NBA star, Gustavo Ayón, who plays for the Orlando Magic. His team will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers next Saturday. Ayón and the BE Foundation will take the opportunity to talk about the issue of doubly undocumented Mexicans during that L.A. visit.

Look for the BE Foundation in other major cities this year including Chicago and New York City.