University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Perales Serna v. Texas Department of State Health Services, Vital Statistics Unit IM-TX-0042
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-00446-RP ( W.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Public Benefits / Government Services
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
On May 26, 2015, a group of parents and guardians of children born in Texas, and a nonprofit advocacy organization, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Texas Civil Rights Project, the plaintiffs sued the ... read more >
On May 26, 2015, a group of parents and guardians of children born in Texas, and a nonprofit advocacy organization, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Texas Civil Rights Project, the plaintiffs sued the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The plaintiffs, all Mexican citizens, asked for the release of certified copies of their U.S.-citizen children's birth certificates. The defendant had, according to the plaintiffs, recently changed longstanding regulations and was now refusing to accept official Mexican-issued identification (matricula consular) as proof of parents' identity and relationship with their children. Consequently, lacking birth certificates for their children, the plaintiffs could not prove their children's U.S. citizenship nor their parent-child relationships.

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant was discriminating on the basis of national origin and only withholding the birth certificates because of the parents' immigration status and national origin. Further, the plaintiffs maintained, the defendants were interfering with exclusive federal authority over matters involving immigrants' documentation and diplomatic affairs with consulates issuing identity documents. Thus, the plaintiffs alleged, the defendant's actions violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Further, the plaintiffs alleged violations of the Texas State Administrative Procedures Act.

On July 22, DSHS moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of state sovereign immunity, and failure to state a claim under the requirements of § 1983, preemption doctrine, and the Supremacy Clause. The plaintiffs responded on August 5, arguing that this case properly stated jurisdiction and a valid claim; the defendant replied on August 13.

On August 21, the plaintiffs moved for an emergency preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs argued that, without the birth certificates, the parents and children would suffer irreparable harm by being unable to access rights such as education, housing, and healthcare, to protect the children from deportation, to maintain family unity, and to ensure the children's ability to freely travel between other countries and the United States.

However, on October 16, 2015, Judge Pitman denied the plaintiffs' request for emergency application for a temporary injunction. Judge Pitman found that, although the plaintiffs had met the burden of showing irreparable harm to the children ("it simply begs credulity for Defendants to argue a birth certificate is not a vitally important document"), the plaintiffs had not demonstrated they would likely succeed on the merits. Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the state interest in preventing fraud in birth certificates might be found to justify disfavor of Mexican-consular identity documents. The plaintiffs had not shown they were likely to prevail on the preemption claim, because the state policy did not facially preempt federal immigration policy, and the state had a compelling interest in regulating birth certificates. 2015 WL 6118623 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 16, 2015).

The plaintiffs filed a fourth amended complaint on Mar. 29, 2016, adding additional plaintiffs from Mexico and Central America. Some parents possessed no acceptable documents, while some had presented one acceptable document but had been denied a birth certificate anyway.

The parties soon entered mediation and reached a private settlement agreement on July 22, 2016. According to news reports, Texas agreed to accept some identity documents that it had been rejecting, including Mexican voter identification cards presented with secondary identification. Parents from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras could also present consulate-issued documents. Texas also established a review process for rejected birth certificate applications and training for registrar officials issuing the certificates. The Court set a compliance monitoring period of nine months.

The Court dismissed the case with prejudice on May 9, 2017. This case is now closed.

Megan Giles - 09/30/2016
Ava Morgenstern - 01/21/2018

compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Benefit Source
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Supremacy Clause
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Preliminary relief denied
Hospital/Health Department
Immigration status
National origin discrimination
Classification / placement
Government Services (specify)
Pattern or Practice
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Records Disclosure
Relative caretakers
School/University policies
Youth / Adult separation
Constitutional rights
Family Separation
U.S. citizenship - acquiring
Undocumented immigrants - rights and duties
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
National Origin/Ethnicity
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) The State of Texas
Plaintiff Description A group of immigrant parents and guardians of children in Texas
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filed 05/26/2015
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  ACLU: Texas Can’t Deny Birth Certificates to Children Born in U.S.
Date: Sep. 25, 2015
By: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Perales Serna, et al. vs Texas Department of State Health Services
Date: Sep. 23, 2015
By: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Lawsuit Forces Texas to Make It Easier for Immigrants to Get Birth Certificates for Children
Date: Jul. 24, 2015
By: Preston, Julia (New York Times)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
W.D. Tex.
IM-TX-0042-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Tex.
Order [Denying Preliminary Injunction] [ECF# 82] (2015 WL 6118623 / 2015 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 140919)
IM-TX-0042-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tex.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-TX-0042-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tex.
Order [Filing a supplement for Live Testimony] [ECF# 49]
IM-TX-0042-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tex.
Fourth Amended Complaint [ECF# 127]
IM-TX-0042-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Austin, Andrew W. (W.D. Tex.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
Pitman, Robert Lee (W.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0042-0003 | IM-TX-0042-0004 | IM-TX-0042-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Harbury, Jennifer K (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0042-0001 | IM-TX-0042-0006 | IM-TX-0042-9000
Harrington, James C (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0042-0001 | IM-TX-0042-9000
Marziani, Mimi Murray Digby (Texas) show/hide docs
Olivares, Efren Carlos (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0042-0001 | IM-TX-0042-0006 | IM-TX-0042-9000
Van Dalen, Marinda (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0042-0001 | IM-TX-0042-0006 | IM-TX-0042-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Albright, Thomas A. (Texas) show/hide docs
Duke, John Earl (Texas) show/hide docs
Rietvelt, Marc (Texas) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Drazin, Cheryl R (Texas) show/hide docs
Espiritu, Nicholas David (California) show/hide docs
Freeman, Steven M. (New York) show/hide docs
Fuchs, Kimberly (Texas) show/hide docs
George, R. James (Texas) show/hide docs
Jones, Lauren A. (New York) show/hide docs
Keaney, Melissa S. (California) show/hide docs
Kennedy, Peter D (Texas) show/hide docs
Kowalski, Daniel M (Texas) show/hide docs
Lein, David P (Texas) show/hide docs
Lewis, Gary L (Texas) show/hide docs
Raymond, Virginia Marie (Texas) show/hide docs

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -