The Impact of Birth Registration Within and Across Borders

Image c/o PLAN / Shona Hamilton / AlertNet

On January 4, 2012, the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) hosted a dialogue on the issue of birth registration in Mexico. Karen Mercado, the Executive Director of the BE Foundation: Derecho a La Identidad explained the problem and the mission of her organization to promote universal birth registration in Mexico. Serving as respondents were Mexican Consul Norma Aguilar; Alyshia Gálvez, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies, Lehman College/City University of New York; and Thomas Shea of the New York Immigration Coalition. Donald Kerwin, CMS’s Executive Director, moderated the session.

Birth registration is recognized as a fundamental human right. Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantee the right to be registered immediately after birth and the right to acquire nationality. Registration establishes legal identity and serves as a foundation for ensuring access to other rights.

Unregistered persons are unable to access many rights and benefits that are available to citizens, such as medical care, education, and housing. They can also be subject to discrimination, exploitation, criminal prosecution, and even trafficking. Inaccurate birth registration statistics prevent governments from implementing policies and distributing resources according to the needs of their residents, perpetuating cycles of poverty and marginalization, especially in poor rural communities with low registration rates.

In 2000, UNICEF reported that approximately 50 million births – two-fifths of the total – were unregistered annually. UNICEF estimated that as of 2000 5 million Mexicans were unregistered. The BE Foundation reports that as many as 10 million Mexicans currently lack birth certificates.

Mercado argued that the Mexican government should conduct an official demographic study to evaluate the scope of the problem, and should implement policies to achieve universal birth registration. She reported that the problem mostly affects poor and minority groups living in remote areas. Many parents are unable to fulfill registration requirements within the required 6 months of birth. Some are unaware of their obligations, while others cannot afford the processing fees. After 6 months and at intervals thereafter, registration fees increase, becoming even more difficult for rural Mexican families to meet. Even if they can afford the fees, families still face the problem of accessing civil registration offices which are located far from their homes. In addition, parents must show that they themselves were registered by providing their own legal identification.  However, many were never registered or at least cannot prove that they were registered.

Lack of birth registration in Mexico has international implications. Every year thousands of unregistered Mexicans, many with young children, cross the border into the United States. Without proof of Mexican citizenship or status in the United States, these migrants become what BE Foundation calls “doubly undocumented.”  Lacking legal status in either country, they cannot access rights or basic benefits, and are vulnerable to exploitation. Under the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a stateless person is defined as a person “who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law” (Article 1). If discovered by US immigration authorities, these undocumented immigrants may become effectively stateless if the United States orders them removed and the Mexican government refuses to recognize their nationality and provide them with travel documents.

For more information:

Karen Mercado Asencio, President, Be Foundation Derecho a la Identidad, The Under-Registration of Births in Mexico: Consequences for Children, Adults, and Migrants,” Migration Policy Institute (April 2012)