What does it mean to be doubly undocumented? It’s a term many people may be unfamiliar with, but for Karen Mercado, the status of being doubly undocumented is one she has sought to address and change for 10 years.
On Thursday, Mercado told an international relations class how she created a foundation to help Mexican-born individuals who do not have documents to prove their identity in both the county where they were born or the country they currently reside.
Mercado had always known that not all Mexicans had birth certificates, but after she created the BeFoundation in 2007, she realized just how big the problem actually was. At least 10 percent of people in Mexico are invisible because they lack documentation to prove they exist. This means that these individuals cannot legally marry, enroll in school, travel outside of the country or even prove their identity. It also makes their path to citizenship in the U.S. more difficult because they have barriers to overcome in both countries.
“According to the U.N., 230 million children around the world are not officially registered and are denied an identity, a recognized name and a nationality,” Mercado said. “A nationality proves you’re a citizen of the U.S., but for millions of people they are a citizen of nowhere. They have no way to prove they actually exist.”
Without an identity, people cannot access the basic human rights guaranteed by a country’s constitution such as health care, social security and education. In Mexico, 12 million people are unregistered. Mercado said these individuals are often from impoverished small towns without a civil registrar, whose families cannot afford to request a birth certificate. Those who have never been registered and want to get a birth certificate later in life need to obtain two documents to prove they’ve been denied citizenship.
“For people in poverty, it’s extremely difficult to get those two documents,” Mercado said. “You need to pay a fine that’s almost $200.”
Mercado stressed that people who live in extreme poverty in Mexico make $3 a day and the process to obtain a birth certificate would be too costly for them.
In her presentation, Mercado shared the stories of two Mexican-Americans who were in the predicament of being doubly undocumented. One of them, Pascual Callejas, gave a speech in New York City where BeFoundation took part in a binational forum to bring awareness to being doubly undocumented.
Callejas was born in an isolated village in Querétaro, Mexico. When he was one year old, Calleja and his family sought more opportunities in the U.S. At age 17, he now faces the struggles of being doubly undocumented. He is unable to apply for college or open a banking account. He learned about BeFoundation through social media and immediately jumped at the opportunity of contributing to the forum.
“I think it’s so easy to take for granted the right to exist on a piece of paper — something that can have a huge impact on your life and what rights you get to enjoy,” international relations major, Ericka Guevara, said after the presentation.
Through her efforts to raise social awareness, Mercado and BeFoundation were able to help change Mexico’s constitution. In 2010, Mexico reformed the fourth article of its constitution to make the right of an identity a constitutional right.
“I felt empowered to get BeFoundation’s message out there, so doubly undocumented people can get help,” said interior design major Kaye Villaverde, who added that she was moved by the presentation. “People who are visibly present, living out their lives and working towards bettering society and their future should be recognized.”