Constitutional Reform in Mexico Guarantees the Right to Free and Universal Birth Registration

Constitutional Reform in Mexico Guarantees the Right to Free and Universal Birth Registration

Birth registration is the formal recording of the birth of a child in a state’s civil register and official recognition of a person’s membership. Typically, birth registration is crucial for acquiring citizenship and realizing other human rights. Lack of birth registration often results in the denial of access to education, health care, and legal protections. It also renders individuals vulnerable to criminality, human trafficking, and abuses in the workplace.[1] 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.[2]

Birth Registration in Mexico

According to national estimates, seven to 10 million Mexicans are unregistered. Not coincidentally, the unregistered are concentrated in areas with the highest levels of poverty. Many belong to marginalized sectors of society such as indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent Mexicans, internally displaced persons, refugees, and homeless youth. These groups face often overlapping obstacles to registration such as extreme poverty, social exclusion, illiteracy, ethnic discrimination, and language barriers. The costs of registration and the extortionate fines that are incurred if parents fail to register a child’s birth within six months make it impossible for many poor families to register their children. In rural areas, municipal offices are difficult to access and many days away for some families. Moreover, even though Mexico grants access to birth registration for the children of foreign nationals born in Mexico, inconsistent implementation and lack of documents on the part of parents results in the failure to register many children.[3]

2014 Constitutional reform

In 2010, the Be Foundation Derecho a la Identidad,[4] a Mexican non-governmental organization, proposed a constitutional reform to establish the right to an identity and universal, free and timely birth registration. The draft decree was presented at the Chamber of Deputies on November 30, 2010 by Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Deputy Arturo Zamora Jiménez. Since then, the Be Foundation has advocated for reform with members of congress and has publicized this problem through local, national, and international media.

Two months ago, the Legislature of the Congress of Mexico reformed Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution, explicitly guaranteeing the right of every person to free birth registration. Under the reformed Article 4, the competent authority shall issue the first copy of the birth certificate free of charge. The reform was published in the Official Journal of the Federation (DOF) and entered into force on June 17,2014.[5]

According to Karen Mercado, Executive Director of the Be Foundation, the main challenge will be to realize the law’s potential. Mercado argues that the federal and state authorities must design and implement programs to turn the right to identity into public policy. Large segments of the population remain unaware of the importance of birth registration. It is therefore crucial, argues Mercado, to raise public awareness on the benefits of registration and to inform poor and rural communities that birth registration is now free of charge.

The “Doubly-Undocumented” Mexican Populations in the US

The barriers to educational and labor market advancement faced by unregistered persons can incentivize migration. Mexican migrants who enter the United States without immigrant status and lack a birth certificate or proof of citizenship from their country of origin find themselves effectively stateless,[6] or what the Be Foundation refers to as “doubly-undocumented.” They are unable to claim rights and benefits as immigrants in the United States and if apprehended by US immigration authorities and ordered removed, many cannot be deported to their country of origin since their nationality cannot be proven.[7]

Mexican Consuls abroad have the authority to act as Civil Registry Officers to register births, marriages, and deaths but they are unable to register Mexican-born persons residing abroad. Thus, they advise the doubly-undocumented to return to Mexico to obtain a birth certificate. Unlike other unauthorized Mexicans in the United States, the doubly-undocumented are unable to obtain a “matrícula consular,” a consular identification card issued by the Mexican Consulate. In many US states the matrícula consular is recognized as an official proof of identification and provides access to benefits such as an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), bank account, reduced transaction costs of remittances, contracts for telephone and other utility services, driver’s license, General Education Development (GED) diploma, or civil marriage.[8] In the case of an accident, death, arrest or detention, a matrícula consular allows Mexican authorities to identify a person, inform the family, and provide consular services. Moreover, the doubly-undocumented are unable to register to vote in Mexican national and some state elections, a right that is granted to Mexicans living abroad.[9]

Youth eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) must display proof of identity making the program difficult to access for the doubly-undocumented. Mercado argues that, in order to comply with the constitutional reform, the Mexican Ministry for Foreign Affairs needs to adjust its rules and regulations and authorize Mexican Consuls in the United States to issue retroactive birth certificates for Mexicans abroad.

To highlight the situation of the doubly-undocumented Mexicans in the United States, the Be Foundation will participate in a binational forum together with the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Equity for Indigenous Communities (SEDEREC) of the government of Mexico City in Mexico City on October 16th and in Washington, DC on October 23rd.

Helene Halling
Center for Migration Studies



[1] Karen Mercado. 2012. “The Under-Registration of Births in Mexico: Consequences for Children, Adults, and Migrants.” Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. April 12.

[2]Center for Migration Studies. 2012. “The Impact of Birth Registration Within and Across Borders.” March 26.

[3] Karen Mercado. 2012. “The Under-Registration of Births in Mexico: Consequences for Children, Adults, and Migrants.” Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. April 12.


[5] Diario Oficial de la Federación (DOF). 2014.,” DECRETO por el que se adiciona el artículo 4o. de la Constitución Política de los Estados Mexicanos.” June 17.

[6] Under the 1954 UN 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).

[7] Center for Migration Studies. 2012. “The Impact of Birth Registration Within and Across Borders.” March 26.

[8] Laureen Laglagaron. 2010. “Protection through Integration: The Mexican Government’s Efforts to Aid Migrants in the United States.” Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.

[9] David Gutierrez, Jeanne Batalova, Aaron Terrazas. 2012. “The 2012 Mexican Presidential Election and Mexican Immigrants of Voting Age in the United States.” Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, April 26.