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Federal judge rules against state on immigrant paternity case

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Sitting at the crossroads between immigration law, paternity establishment, and the controversy on how the United States handles illegal immigrants, a federal judge in Indianapolis has ordered state health officials to stop denying unmarried immigrant parents without a Social Security number the ability to file an affidavit establishing paternity.

U.S. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on Thursday granted a preliminary injunction stopping the Indiana State Department of Health from using a new policy that targets those without Social Security numbers, whether they are individuals here on working visas or those with pending immigration statuses. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in November on behalf of a group of families whose immigration status doesn’t allow them to get those numbers and as a result, deprives them of their 14th Amendment rights to have their U.S. born children get child support and related benefits of paternity.

The state used to accept affidavits even if one or both parents' Social Security numbers were missing, but in July that policy changed to require both numbers in order to validate the forms. This case, L.P., et al. v. Commissioner, Indiana State Department of Health, No. 1:10-CV-1309, follows that.

In a hearing Thursday, state register Erin Kellam, who took that job in March 2010, told Judge Pratt that she’d understood state statute to require Social Security numbers and didn’t think it was subject to interpretation.

But Judge Pratt disagreed, pointing to the state department’s “inconsistent” and “perhaps even incoherent” internal policies and how the state argued it needed that information to track a child’s parents in case child support enforcement is needed.

“This reasoning rings hollow,” she wrote. “In effect, the Commissioner is arguing that not establishing paternity at all is somehow preferable to establishing paternity if the affidavit is missing a social security number. Given that the overarching purpose of the law in this area is to establish paternity and enforce child support obligations, this justification defies common sense. Where the choice is between establishing paternity at birth without the parents’ social security numbers and not establishing paternity at all, only the former choice will further the state’s interests. At bottom, the Commissioner’s interpretation erects impenetrable roadblocks to being legitimated via paternity affidavit for Plaintiffs. Regardless of the level of scrutiny employed, Plaintiff’s stand on their Equal Protection Clause claim.”

Judge Pratt disregarded the state’s claim that plaintiffs could turn to the court system to establish paternity, instead of the affidavits.

“However, as the Court well knows, the process of navigating this sometimes maddening world is, to put it charitably, burdensome,” she wrote.

Legitimatizing children is paramount and something that is in the public interest, Judge Pratt said.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has not yet determined whether it will appeal the ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, but spokesman Bryan Corbin said the AG has 30 days to make that decision.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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