Military Veteran Suing State Department Over Proof Of U.S. Citizenship After Passport Application Is Repeatedly Denied

A Minnesota military veteran is suing the State Department in an effort to establish his U.S. citizenship and obtain a passport for international travel.

Mark Esqueda has twice been denied a passport because the U.S. State Department said they could not determine that he is a United States citizen, despite having passed multiple military background checks to obtain security clearance.

According to the Star Tribune, Esqueda served for 8 years in the U.S. military as a Marine and then later joined the Army National Guard.

"I don't like to tell people I'm a veteran. I didn't do it for the recognition. I don't like to be called a hero. I love this country. I did it for my country. I would have done it even if I hadn't been paid," Esqueda said according to a news release from the Minnesota ACLU. "I truly believe that there is no better country than the U.S. That's why I felt serving was my duty – I just had­ to give back."

Esqueda was born in Hildago, Texas but grew up in Minnesota and applied for a passport in 2012, the Associated Press said. With his initial application, Esqueda included his birth certificate but other information was requested that he did not have, prompting his application to be denied.

In 2015, Esqueda applied again after gathering the needed information. On his second application, he also included a sworn statement from a police officer who was present at his 1988 birth, information on government benefits his family received when he was a child and military service records.

Again, the State Department asked for more information, and Esqueda provided statements from five family members after it was determined that the midwife present at his birth was unreliable. In 2017, his second application was also denied.

The ACLU of Minnesota and Esqueda filed to sue the State Department, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Thursday, saying that the U.S. government is restricting the right of a U.S. citizen to travel freely.

"Mark was born here and bravely served our country in the military. What the government has demanded from Mark goes well beyond its own requirements to prove his citizenship. We look forward to holding the government accountable and getting Mark the recognition he deserves as a citizen and patriot," attorney Jenny Gassman-Pines said in a statement.

The issue, the Tribune said, is that at the time of Esqueda's birth, several midwives working in border towns admitted to falsifying birth certificates. However, Lynette Kalsnes, Communications Director for the ACLU of Minnesota, said a police officer signing the birth certificate as a witness was often utilized to prevent any issues with citizenship status.

"At this point, it's not about me having a passport, it's about them saying I'm not an American. And that for me is just the biggest insult I have ever heard," Esqueda told KSTP in April.

The complaint filed by the ACLU chapter says the proof in cases like this is a preponderance of evidence, which some legal scholars define as 51 percent of the provided evidence favors the plantiff, and that the State Department is violating its own rules by requesting Esqueda submit more evidence.

The national ACLU sued the U.S. government in a similar case in 2008.

"The lawsuit charged that the State Department violated the due process and equal protection rights of U.S. citizens delivered by midwives along the southern border by forcing them to provide an excessive number of documents normally not required to prove citizenship," the Minnesota ACLU said in a website post. "Even after these citizens provided further proof of citizenship, the State Department closed applications without explanation. In a 2009 settlement, the State Department agreed to new procedures to ensure the fair and prompt review of these U.S. passport applications; it also agreed it wouldn't deny passports to eligible citizens."

"Unfortunately, the government is up to its old tricks," the post continues, saying lawyers across the country have reported an increase in denied passport applications for individuals delivered by midwives in border towns.

Esqueda told the Tribune he filed the lawsuit as a last resort and wants to use his passport to visit his sister and his niece in Germany since he missed his niece's birth in 2015 when his application was denied.

"I want to make up for missing that and make that trip," Esqueda said.

Mark Esqueda
Mark Esqueda, a U.S. military veteran, is suing the State Department after he had a passport application repeatedly denied. Lynette Kalsnes/ACLU of Minnesota
Military Veteran Suing State Department Over Proof Of U.S. Citizenship After Passport Application Is Repeatedly Denied | U.S.