Baja California’s San Quintin Valley is home to approximately 20,000 migrant workers and their family members, who largely come from the tropical states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán in southern Mexico. Traveling 2,200 miles by bus, train, or foot, these migrants seek better social and economic prospects, filling agricultural jobs in the valley and creating one of the most stable migrant populations in the country.
However, although families have settled into homes instead of labor camps and are now raising children born in Baja, efforts to integrate into their new community have faltered. From high Spanish illiteracy rates and to their distinctive accent, ragged dress, and segregated housing, there are persistent reminders of the deep ethnic, economic, and educational chasm that separates them from the people and resources of mainstream society.
One underlying factor that drives systemic marginalization is migrants’ lack of legal documentation—namely birth certificates, which are used for identification more often in Mexico than in the U.S. Migrants’ home states are largely populated by indigenous peoples who live in tension with the federal government—a disconnect that extends to interactions such as registering births. As an illustration, 35% of Oaxacans do not acquire a birth certificate within their first year, partially due to the fact that such documentation is less necessary within the state and perhaps because it is less respected.
Overall, we estimate that about one-third of the migrant population in the San Quintin Valley lacks this documentation. In 2012, over 3.8 million children (31.6%) were born without birth certificates to citizens of the three most common home states.1 Using the same percentage as a baseline, approximately 6,320 of the 20,000 migrants in the valley are missing this critical identifying documentation.
Inalienable is an internationally focused nonprofit organization that defends the rights and dignity of migrants. Our approach emphasizes personal agency while expanding access to local assets, addressing the life challenges arising from migration—understood as an often complex series of backward, onward, or circular movements, rather than a single, permanent event.
Whether limited by language barriers or missing paperwork, migrants can fall through the cracks of a new community, impacting their well-being and trapping their children and generations to come in a cycle of poverty.
For these families, lack of a birth certificate creates a number of problems in accessing public services. For example, the Mexican Constitution guarantees free elementary education to all citizens. However, without identification to prove citizenship, children of migrant families cannot attend primary school. In a society where a
high school (preparatória) education is expected for well-paying jobs, these children have no opportunity to advance out of poverty. While Mexico established a free public health care this system will not treat patients without birth certificates, turning many basic medical concerns into significant crises and impacting the long-term health of both parents and children.
Lack of legal documentation and the ensuing gaps in civil rights and resources prevent migrants from fully integrating into Baja society—and ultimately from developing self-sufficiency and control of their own destinies. Inalienable recognizes that acquiring a birth certificate is not a magic bullet to ensuring a migrant youth is healthy, attends high school, gets a good job, and escapes poverty. However, we believe that a birth certificate can be a powerful leverage point for creating change.
Based on this belief, Inalienable has designed the Birth Certificate Initiative to help migrants in the San Quintin Valley pursue their own birth certificates. To bridge these gaps in access to birth certificates, Inalienable conducts outreach in the community and provides a range of case management support for migrants. Service intensity is determined through an initial intake screening with each household to assess eligibility for services, as well as specific challenges to documentation. In simpler cases, we may answer questions, provide basic information, or help with the aforementioned transportation. In more difficult cases, we provide directive guidance and advocacy, helping clients gather documents, complete the application form, and communicate with Registro Civil staff. In all cases, the goal is to help the client obtain the needed birth certificate.
Within a five-month pilot program, Inalienable helped 55 families secure 39 birth certificates! Several children immediately enrolled in school and families received needed medical care.