For the past five years, Mark Esqueda, a 30-year-old construction worker, Minnesota National Guard member, and ex-Marine, could not get a passport to save his life.
Though he was raised in southern Minnesota, the U.S. State Department wasn’t convinced he was an American citizen. It’s true that both of his parents are from Mexico, but he was born in Hidalgo, Texas. That’s why the State Department was skeptical.
In 2009, a handful of midwives living in border towns admitted to fabricating birth certificates for children who had actually been born in Mexico. The feds demanded Esqueda prove he wasn't among them.
It’s an extraordinary standard of proof – one most Americans never have to worry about. Fortunately, the man who’d delivered Esqueda, Roberto Nuñez, still runs a clinic in Hidalgo and keeps incredibly meticulous records.
Esqueda obtained affidavits from people who had been living in town when he was born, including the presence of police officer Roberto Dominguez at the delivery. He presented it to the State Department in an effort to prove himself. He also presented his secret military clearance, which is apparently easier to get than a passport if you’re Mark Esqueda.
It still wasn't enough. Finally, he teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota to go to court. Esqueda wanted to make officials feel “ashamed” for having put him – “or anyone else” -- through such a gauntlet. Having his citizenship questioned was an insult of the highest order.
“It’s being told I did not belong here,” he said.
On Monday, the ACLU announced it had reached a settlement with the State Department. Esqueda was “indeed” a United States citizen born in Texas. He said in a statement that he was still having a hard time believing it really went his way.
“To hear the government say I was right all along, it was eye-opening.”
He no longer has to worry about having his status questioned, or missing family events abroad.
But for Esqueda, this bittersweet experience hasn’t changed his outlook on his home country. He's still a proud American, and he “always” will be. Now it’s up to the country to live up to his expectations.