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ACLU Accuses State Department Of Refusing Passport to US-Born Oregonian

<p>People wait in line outside the U.S. Passport Office in downtown Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2007, for processing.</p>

Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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People wait in line outside the U.S. Passport Office in downtown Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2007, for processing.

The U.S. Department of State is blocking an Oregon woman born in the United States from receiving a passport, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. 

Maria Soto, 48, was born in Los Angeles, but was sent to Mexico to live with her grandparents when she was only a few months old, according to the federal filing. She returned to the U.S. at age 18, settling in Klamath Falls.

Last winter, Soto applied for a passport with the State Department. She’d made a first attempt more than two decades earlier, but was denied after the department asked for additional documents and she failed to send them in. 

For her second attempt, Soto came armed with birth certificates from both the hospital and the government, a social security card and a driver’s license, according to Leland Baxter-Neal, staff attorney with the ACLU of Oregon.  

But she was once again denied. This time, according to the suit, it was on the grounds that she displayed “insufficient evidence of citizenship.” 

Baxter-Neal says, while this is the first time he’s seen an Oregonian born in the U.S. denied a passport, he believes these incidents are increasing nationwide. 

“Across the country, there are lots of examples and anecdotal reports of an increase in denials of passports for individuals who are from immigrant families or immigrant communities,” he says.  

He points to reporting from the Washington Post last fall which found that, under the Trump administration, “hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border” had been accused of faking their birth certificates and subsequently denied passports. 

Baxter-Neal said he believes Soto’s denial is “in line with what we see from the Trump administration treating individuals like our client Maria differently based on their heritage.” 

In response to the Washington Post’s reporting, the State Department insisted no changes had been made to the adjudication of passport applications under the administration. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Rebecca Ellis is a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before joining OPB, she was a Kroc Fellow at NPR, filing stories for the National Desk in Washington D.C. and reporting from Salt Lake City.