INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana cannot deny paternity documents for children born in the U.S. just because their parents are illegal immigrants and don’t have Social Security numbers, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by parents who said a state policy requiring the numbers violates their children’s rights under the 14th Amendment, which recognizes the children as U.S. citizens. Pratt issued a preliminary injunction barring the policy, which began last July.
“These newborn children are American citizens, and we have to remember that,” Pratt said.
Under the new policy, state health officials require that paternity affidavits filed by unmarried parents contain both parents’ Social Security numbers or be sent back to county health offices unrecorded. Without the affidavits, which establish legal paternity, a child’s mother or father isn’t legally recognized as the child’s parent.
Denying parents the ability to establish legal paternity amounts to discrimination against their children, the judge said. Without paternity rights, children lose out on child support, inheritance, visitation and other benefits, she said.
“This case isn’t about the parents,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ken Falk, who represented two sets of parents who were granted class action status. “It’s about the children.”
State health registrar Lisa Erin Kellam testified that she established the policy based on her interpretation of state and federal law governing the documents.
But Falk said state officials had accepted paternity affidavits for years without Social Security numbers from those who couldn’t provide them. And, he said, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had advised states that the numbers weren’t necessary.
The paternity affidavits were intended to make it easier to establish paternity, not harder, he said.
“The state has taken a provision that protects children and erected a barrier that injures children,” Falk said.
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