Undocumented Fathers Treated Differently Than Undocumented Mothers

Nashville, TE–Stephanie Hernandez gave birth to a baby girl in Nashville’s Baptist Hospital on August 31, 2007. She was not married at the time. No father’s name was listed on the birth certificate, meaning that the father had no legal paternity rights or obligations. 

Deadbeat Dad?  Nope. Her fiance, whom she later married, was at her side the entire time. Hernandez, a US citizen, and her undocumented immigrant fiance, were prevented from placing his name on the birth certificate by Tennessee law. The law requires an unmarried dad to produce government-issued ID to appear on the birth certificate, but this is denied to undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, Tennessee appears to have no qualms about immigration status when it comes to child support collections. Calls to a local child support office and a Tennessee observer knowledgeable about these issues confirmed that an undocumented mother can indeed collect child support.

We also learned that all Tennessee mothers are automatically listed on the birth certificate, regardless of immigrant status. And, marriage status operates on an honor system — birthing couples are not asked by hospitals to produce a marriage certificate. Both names are placed on the birth certificate, no questions asked. Thus, the problem starts with the assumption of a lesser status for the unmarried father.

Claiming paternity, beyond the usual reasons, is also necessary if the unmarried couple wants the child to assume the father’s last name. The problem for undocumented fathers in Tennessee is that they can’t get a notary’s stamp without proper identification. And the state now bars undocumented individuals from getting driver’s licenses, which would have satisfied the notary requirements.

The end result? Said Hernandez, “My daughter has a father who loves her and no legal rights where she is concerned, no legal responsibility and no legal recognition that he gave her life.” (The Tennessean, 6/1/2008)

In the same article, Vanderbilt University sociologist Katherine Donato states, “What they are doing is constructing paternity around legal [immigration] status.”

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, states in the article, “Do people really think there are men sneaking into delivery rooms wanting to claim paternity?” … “What you will have is fathers with no access to their children’s school records, health records or being formally involved in their lives.”

Since the change in policy, Tennessee birth certificates without a father’s name have increased by 10%.

While we take no position on the broader immigration debate in the US, we absolutely believe that mothers and fathers should be treated the same under the law in almost every respect. And, we believe that state and other governmental entities are far too quick to insert government power into the family, as most parents who’ve been through family court can attest all too well.

Stephanie Hernandez subsequently married the father, but the marriage certificate is still not good enough for Tennessee’s vital records office to put Dad”s name on the birth certificate. Their remedy for the family? Get a paternity test and then petition family court to establish paternity and to change the child’s last name.

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