Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Why Is It Taking This Latina Nearly 5 Years To Get A Passport?

MeChelle Salinas is a hardworking Austin based hairstylist and makeup artist who I met when I attended my first Southern Comfort Conference in the ATL back in 1999.   She's a native Texan born in the Rio Grande border town of Eagle Pass who loves to travel, and would love to have the ability do so internationally.

For that as everyone is aware of, you need a passport.   But MeChelle has been stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare that has dragged on for now almost five years just to get it.

Acquiring the identity documents we need as trans people can sometimes be a pain in the behind as my nine month battle just to get my Texas drivers license was testimony to.  There are also times that we trans people as forced to jump through hoops and encounter additional procedural hurdles before we even can get those necessary identity documents.

Being born in Texas makes Salinas an American citizen by birth.  Both of her parents are also American citizens. But she was also born in her parent's Eagle Pass home with the assistance of a midwife instead of in a hospital.

That's her first problem.  Problem number two is Eagle Pass is on the US-Mexican border. And oh, did I also mention that on her way to adulthood she came out to her family as trans in her teens?.

"I just wish people would open their minds and hearts and accept that we are all human, no matter what gender you chose to be,." says Salinas as we discussed her situation.
Fast forward to a now in adulthood Salinas starting the process to get her new passport.   She has a copy of her certified Texas birth certificate.   She has copies of her doctor's and medical records going back to infancy.  She has copies of all the paperwork for her legal name and gender marker change that occurred in 1998.  She has even enlisted the help of her local congressman Lloyd Doggett to try to break the bureaucratic logjam to acquire her passport.

She has even held a US passport in the past.  "I had a passport before. But they are claiming that any passport info over 20 years old was deleted from the system."

But because the paperwork and documents she has in her possession have been deemed  as 'insufficient proof' of American citizenship, the passport reapplication process she started in 2010 has now been stuck in the bureaucratic maze for nearly five years.

Salinas shared with me the reason she was reapplying for her US passport was also work related.  "I was hired by one of my regular clients to do a wedding in Italy.   I had been doing her hair since she was 8 years old and I was not only looking forward to that trip to see her get married, but get a chance to get paid doing what I love at the same time." she added.

"Because of the passport problems, I not only missed out on that trip and the money I was going to get paid, but I also missed getting to see one of my longtime clients get married.".

Salinas is frustrated that she not only missed out on that paid wedding opportunity, she's upset that she's still enmeshed in this bureaucratic nightmare when all she wants to do is get her passport, have it in case opportunities like that missed Italian wedding pop up in the near future and start traveling the world.   She is searching for an attorney to help her out.

Salinas also suspects that because of her intersectional status of being a trans Latina who happened to be born on the US-Mexico border, in a time in which anti-Latino immigration animus is being stirred up in the United States for political gain combined with transphobia, are factors in why her passport reapplication application process is moving at a glacially slow pace.

"It has taken me three years just to get a caseworker," said Salinas. "It's been so hard and frustrating that I have almost given up. But I know I have to fight to make it happen.  I'm just tired and frustrated about the whole experience right now.." . 

"I was denied by mail. All my info and paper work was sent back and I was told to try again in 60 to 90 days " she added. "They also kept every cent of the fees I had paid to them as I .was left with once again to starting the process again from scratch"

"When I asked the caseworker what would change in 60 to 90 days to be able to get my passport she answered, 'I don't know' '".

Despite the emotionally draining at times bureaucratic drama, Salinas is hopeful that she will eventually get her passport and will soon be jetting off to the places that she has dreamed about visiting since she was a child.

I hope that happens for MeChelle as well.

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