California man, an ex-Marine, must prove he's U.S. citizen

Israel Betancourt is an American of Mexican descent. He was born in the border town of Laredo, Texas, in 1977. And his birth was assisted by a midwife.

Those three factors raised a red flag for the U.S. Department of State when the Lincoln, Calif., resident applied for a passport back in March, a passport he still hopes to obtain so he can vacation in Cancun with his wife and two young daughters.

No one informed Betancourt that his American citizenship was in question before — not in all the presidential elections he's voted in, not when he served in the Marines and not when he first became an emergency medical technician a decade ago. His father, a U.S. citizen, also served in the Marines.

"It's like a slap in the face," Betancourt said. "It doesn't change the way I feel or act, but I'm trying to do something as American as apple pie and go on vacation, and it feels like I've got the rug pulled out from under me."

Betancourt's citizenship status came into question because of a policy last year requiring all citizens to present a passport when flying from Canada and Mexico. The policy covers those traveling by land and sea starting today.

Previously, people could present a birth certificate and photo ID.

"This has probably been going on for a while, but the pattern became much more easily detected as this surge of applications began," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"In a lot of cases, these are folks who have been in the country and have considered themselves American their entire lives, and then suddenly the government is telling them they have suspicions about whether they are American citizens."

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