Updated: July 17, 2019 08:24 PM
A Minnesota Marine who was twice denied a passport by the State Department has won a legal fight to prove he's an American citizen, according to federal court records reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES, including a settlement agreement signed on Friday.
Thursday afternoon, attorneys for Mark Esqueda and the government filed a joint proposal to stay his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State as both sides worked out a final settlement.
"Defendant has agreed that Plaintiff is able to meet his burden of establishing by a preponderance of evidence that he was born in Texas and is a U.S Citizen," the attorneys wrote in stipulation filed in federal court.
The government's deadline to respond to Esqueda's lawsuit was set to expire Thursday.
The formal acknowledgement of Esqueda's U.S. citizenship is a significant victory for the 30-year-old who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a Marine and later as a member of the Minnesota National Guard.
"With that agreement, the government has no right to ever doubt me again," Esqueda said. "I knew from the very start that I was born here and I knew from the very start that I belong here."
The Department of State denied Esqueda's passport application twice in the last five years because of questions about when and where he was born.
Esqueda and hundreds of others have been forced to defend their citizenship because they were delivered by midwives in south Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. They were born at time when some midwives admitted to creating fraudulent birth certificates for children actually born in Mexico.
In March, 5 INVESTIGATES traveled to Esqueda's birthplace in Hidalgo, Texas and found the midwife who delivered him in 1988.
That midwife, Roberto Nuñez, provided Esqueda's original birth records to 5 INVESTIGATES, proving his U.S. citizenship.
Attorneys, including those from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, filed suit against the Department of State soon after 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS provided Esqueda with his birth records.
In the settlement, the Department of State cited "recently uncovered evidence" as a reason for reversing its position on Esqueda's citizenship.
"To hear them actually say that they were wrong and I was right... to me, is the best thing that I can hear," Esqueda said.
5 INVESTIGATES was with Esqueda at his home Friday when he signed the settlement with the government. Part of the agreement requires Esqueda to drop his lawsuit against the government within seven days of receiving his passport book.
Despite the victory, ACLU attorney Ian Bratlie says the government's widespread denial of passport applications submitted by those who were born to midwives in Texas is still a "systematic problem."
"The U.S. government seems to be taking a position that any midwife birth is questionable which is absurd and not legally the standard," Bratlie said. "By putting a light on this problem, we are hoping to fix that both here and nationally as well."
Eric Rasmussen & Ana Lastra
Updated: July 17, 2019 08:24 PM
Published: July 15, 2019 12:00 AM
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