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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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