Woman accused of getting passport illegally

October 12, 2008 10:08:59 PM PDT
A woman accused of entering the United States illegally used her U.S. passport 89 times before federal agents detained her on her way back from Matamoros, Mexico, in mid-September, her attorney said. Maria Teresa Payan de Castillo, who obtained notarized statements from witnesses of her delivery at home in the United States by a midwife, was approved for the passport four years ago and assumed her quest for citizenship was over, The Brownsville Herald reported in Monday editions.

"The State Department saw sufficient proof to provide her a passport," attorney Juan Magallanes said. "How is it that they're detaining her when her passport is valid and approved by the government?"

The State Department claims Payan de Castillo should have never been given a passport. A criminal complaint filed in federal court alleges she was born in Durango, Mexico, and obtained a passport "by means of fraud and misrepresentation."'

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a detainer on Payan de Castillo, of Cameron Park, to keep her in custody without bail.

The newspaper reported that her arrest worries some residents who fear her case may be a forerunner of a crackdown on current passport holders.

Payan de Castillo received a delayed birth certificate from the state, detailing her birth outside a hospital. About 1,000 such birth certificates are issued annually.

The newspaper reported that she obtained notarized statements from witnesses and three documents citing the date and place of her birth.

State Department officials declined to comment to the newspaper about the charges against Payan de Castillo nor did they say why a passport's legitimacy might be questioned years after it is issued.

Payan de Castillo's possession of a U.S. passport is now counted as an additional charge, on top of the accusation that she attempted to enter the country illegally. The fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years confinement in federal prison.

Payan de Castillo got her passport in her own name, using information approved by the Cameron County Judge, the State of Texas, and the federal government, the newspaper reported.

"If they're questioning her citizenship, why did they give her a passport in the first place?" her husband Jose Castillo asked. "This is an unacceptable way to treat a citizen."

The federal government alleges Payan de Castillo crossed the border illegally and was deported in 2004, only months before her passport arrived in the mail. She did what she had to do to see her family, Jose Castillo said. "Before the papers came, there was no alternative."

And if she's a U.S. citizen by birth -- as the issuance of her birth certificate suggests -- then a previous deportation is irrelevant, according to staff attorneys at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

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