Guest post by Adoptee Rights Law Center's Gregory D. Luce
Guest post by Adoptee Rights Law Center’s Gregory D. Luce
I wanted this to be a short update a few weeks ago. I wanted to tell you that recent absurdities in Illinois and Texas were just bad mistakes. Illinois, maybe. Texas? Not so clear.

Here’s the issue, in case you missed my initial post about this:

Recently in Illinois and Texas, vital records departments have been limiting adult adoptees to a single lifetime copy of an original birth certificate, provided they qualify for one. Once and done. As in, you get one copy one time, don’t ask for another. Period.

When challenged, Illinois admitted it was a mistake and that its one-copy limit was unjustified. In response to my letter requesting documents that supported the Illinois position, a FOIA rep said no documents existed to support the policy and that the decision to limit adoptees to a single lifetime copy was made “in error.” Great. But I still need to hear from an Illinois adoptee who requests another copy of his or her OBC and gets it—or doesn’t. If you are that adoptee, let me know.

This leaves Texas. If you recall, we left off with adoptee rights activist Shawna Hodgson requesting another copy of her OBC. Under Texas law, if adoptees can correctly identify birthparents they can obtain non-certified copies of their original birth certificates. The focus is on “identify,” as in accurate. Texas routinely rejects applications if the names submitted do not completely match (Ann cannot be Annie, Jack cannot be John). That aside, if you identify the birth parents listed on the OBC you get the OBC— no questions asked, no reason needed. It’s yours.

Well, until this.

Shawna needed another copy of her OBC. Naturally, she requested one. And, being an activist, she set up a request to determine how the department handled these things:

To: DSHS Service, Customer
Subject: Customer Service

Good morning,I applied for my original birth certificate in 2015 (I’m an adoptee) and received a non-certified copy.

I have since lost that copy due to flooding during Hurricane Harvey. Will I be eligible to receive a duplicate copy of my original birth certificate if I submit the application again? Thank you in advance for your help in this matter.

Sincerely,

Shawna L. Hodgson

Within a few days she got her response: NO.

To: Shawna Hodgson
Subject: RE: Customer Service to Registrar

Good Morning Ms. Hodgson,

Unfortunately, as the statute states, only one non-certified copy can be given.

Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, Subsection F, states “an adult adoptee who is applying for access to the person’s original birth certificate and who knows the identity of each parent named on the original birth certificate is entitled to a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate without obtaining a court order. The adult adoptee may obtain a copy of their original birth certificate without a court order, if they can identify the birth parent(s) that are listed.”

Kind Regards,

K.S.
Administrative Assistant IV

Shawna then contacted me, knowing that I had just dealt with the same issue in Illinois. We each decided to submit document requests through the Texas Public Information Act. Shawna emailed hers first:

To: DSHS OpenRecords
Subject: FOIA Open Records Request: Office of Vital Statistics

Dear Custodian of Records,

Under the Texas Public Information Act, § 6252-17a et seq., I request an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that relate to the following:

  • Records that set forth, communicate, or support any policy or practice of the Texas Department of State Health Services (“the Department”) to limit an adult adoptee to one copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate, as stated and reflected in the attached email of Kaci Saenz, dated January 29, 2018;
  • Records that reflect or set forth the Department’s position or interpretation of Texas law or regulations to limit an adult adoptee to a single copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate, as stated and reflected in the attached email of Kaci Saenz, dated January 29, 2018;

If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $50.00.

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,
Shawna L. Hodgson

She got a response within a week. It said:

Ms. Hodgson,

Attached is the document responsive to your request. Your request is now closed. Please contact us in the future if we may be of assistance.

Thank you,

Mary Castillo
Public Information Coordinator
DSHS|Office of General Counsel

 
The document was the email Shawna had already received, plus a blank form letter. That form letter (you can read it here) was apparently what the department used in these cases. It said exactly this:
 

Dear Customer:

We have received your adult adoptee application regarding the above identified record.

The application you submitted to our office did not meet the requirements of the statute. We are only able to issue one non-certified copy of the original without a court order.

Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, Subsection F, states “an adult adoptee who is applying for access to the person’s original birth certificate and who knows the identity of each parent named on the original birth certificate is entitled to a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate without obtaining a court order. The adult adoptee may obtain a copy of their original birth certificate without a court order, if they can identify the birth parent(s) that are listed.”

My phone number and email address are listed below my name if you need further assistance.

Sincerely,

Yvonne Monagas
Adoption Specialist
Vital Statistics

 
So, still this: NO. And it appears this is not a one-shot thing applied only to Shawna. After all, they produced a form letter that they apparently use, and that letter had a generic and telling file name of “Rejected_Adult Adoptee(issued once before).doc.”

I wrote that day to the interim general counsel for the vital statistics office, throwing my own weight around as a person who can also put “Esquire” after his name. A full copy of my letter is here. The heart of the issue, though, is this:

I am not aware of a case or regulation in Texas that operates to limit the phrase “a copy” to a single lifetime copy and no more, whether it is a copy of the original birth certificate under 192.008(f), a copy of a government document, or a copy of a vital record to which a person is entitled. If this interpretation is upheld, it would render many of Texas’s laws on government data and records meaningless. It would also limit everyone to a single certified copy of their own birth certificate—forever. See, e.g., Texas Health and Safety Code § 191.051, (“the state registrar shall supply to a properly qualified applicant, on request, a certified copy of a record, or part of a record, of a birth, death, or fetal death registered under this title.”)(emphasis supplied). Such an interpretation is absurd.

Shawna got this email response the very next day, from yet another representative.

I have spoken with my supervisor and we have determined that you are qualified to receive another non-certified copy of your original birth record. If you would please send us the application and copy of your identification that we previously mailed back to you, we will expedite the request and get your record sent to you immediately.

Best,

Malak Carrillo, M.A.
Manager, Records Management & Preservation
Department of State Health Services | Vital Statistics Section

Great. Except, Shawna was not finished. She responded:

I appreciate you notifying me that I do now in fact qualify for a second copy of my Original Birth Certificate.

I’m an advocate for adult adoptees in Texas and nationally, and need to know if all adult adoptees can get additional copies of their OBC so long as they qualify under the statute.

I look forward to your response and thanks in advance.

Shawna Hodgson

Mr. Carillo wrote back:

Thank you for your response! It is really wonderful that you are working as an advocate to adoptees both in Texas and on the national scale. I hope that you will reach out should you have any questions in the future and I will assist as much as I can.

If you would send those documents back in, we will get your non certified birth certificate out to you as an expedited request.

Thank you!

Best,

Malak Carrillo, M.A.
Manager, Records Management & Preservation
Department of State Health Services | Vital Statistics Section

This is the part where I’m lucky to know and work with advocates like Shawna, who won’t fold. She fired back.

Mr. Carrillo,

Are you not able to answer my question? Or not willing to?

Shawna L. Hodgson

It was now time to see whether Texas doubled down. You decide:

Good afternoon, Shawna,

Upon meeting all application requirements, adult adoptees may obtain more than one non-certified copy of their original birth certificate.

Best,

Malak Carrillo, M.A.
Manager, Records Management & Preservation
Department of State Health Services | Vital Statistics Section

Is this over? No. We are still monitoring it, and at least one advocate has requested another copy of her OBC, receiving it without a hitch. But it’s a problem, and one we’ll continue to follow. In the meantime—and as I wrote in an earlier post—let’s keep this project moving. When we all get our OBCs upon request I suggest again that:

whenever the state requests a reason for a second or fifth or eighty-fourth copy of an OBC, we specifically tell them to get lost. Then, if the state persists, we tell them it’s part of a collective interpretive project and that we are all slowly creating a flock of 35,000 paper airplanes, which we plan to toss from the roof of the Alamo. We will all watch them; we will all let those bastards float.


Gregory Luce is a Minnesota lawyer, DC-born adoptee, and the founder of Adoptee Rights Law Center PLLC, which advocates exclusively for adult adopted persons. He has been practicing law in Minnesota state and federal courts since 1993. In addition to writing this guest post for Equality4Adoptees, he manages to have a sense of humor.

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Comments

  1. To paraphrase Dickens: If the law supposes that it can mess with Gregory Luce, Esq., the law sir is an ass!

    Well done, Greg!

  2. Very interesting! Our adoption agency (Abrazo Adoption Associates) had a policy in place for years by which we paid for two certified copies of the OBC for each child we placed, so that we could provide one certified copy of the OBC to the birthmother, and hold one in our file for the adoptee to be given upon request as an adult. We did this successfully for years, until last year, when suddenly the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics denied our requests, informing us that we can only purchase one copy now, because there is a “lifetime limit” of ten copies per individual… regardless of whether an adoption occurs?

    • Wow! Very interesting. So their reasoning could be restricting copies benefits adoptees and non adoptees because they might need at least ten copies of their birth certificate in their lifetime? I would buy that except for the fact that they told me I could only have one lifetime copy. They need to get their story straight. Would love to hear more about this, Elizabeth.

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