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A Glendale Mom Was Falsely Imprisoned; Now the State Wants to Cancel Her U.S. Birth Certificate

Briseira Torres, a U.S. citizen with an un-canceled U.S. birth certificate, despite the bumbling efforts of the Office of Vital Records.
Stephen Lemons

The eagerness of the state of Arizona to drive all brown people — legal or illegal — from its territory leads to some really backward moves on behalf of officials, high and low.

Add bureaucrats' inherent inability to concede an error to this official policy of ethnic cleansing, enshrined in Senate Bill 1070's dictate of "attrition through enforcement," and you've got a bizarre huckleberry hybrid of a government that resembles Redneck Island crossed with Commie Russia.

Take, for example, the colossal boneheadedness displayed by state officials in the ongoing case of Briseira Torres.

I know, I shouldn't be surprised. After all, these are officials of a state still governed by Governor Jan "We Have Did" Brewer, who recently "endorsed" President Obama by accident while attending the Republican National Convention.

And stupidity, like some other substances best left unmentioned, rolls down hill.

But once Torres was released August 3, following her 4 1/2-month wrongful imprisonment in a Maricopa County jail, I figured Arizona would leave the Glendale mom alone, especially after my column on the case went viral ("Woman Held Because Authorities Thought She Was Illegal," August 9).

Torres, a U.S. citizen with the birth certificate to prove it, had been collared by Arizona Department of Transportation investigator Chris Oberly on March 14 and charged with three counts of forgery.

This, after she tried to pick up the passport she had ordered for her teenage daughter at the federal building downtown.

Oberly and the County Attorney's Office contended that Torres' real name was Brenda Gomez, a Mexican national whose mom fraudulently had obtained a late-registration birth certificate for her when she was a baby.

A former employee with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Oberly testified under oath to a county grand jury that Arizona's Office of Vital Records canceled Torres' U.S. birth certificate in 1999.

As she awaited her date in court, Torres was held non-bondable. See, forgery is a class-four felony in Sand Land, and if authorities think a suspect is in the country illegally, that individual is treated as a murderer and not allowed to make bail.

Torres' lawyers — immigration attorneys Delia Salvatierra and Johnny Sinodis — hit the state's Vital Records Office with a subpoena, seeking all documents the department had for their client.

After weeks of stalling, OVR section manager Robin Glover responded with 18 pages of copies and a sworn statement certifying that they were "all of the documents in possession of the Office of Vital Records" having to do with their client's case.

Significantly, the file contained no indication that Torres' birth certificate had been canceled. Nor was a Mexican birth certificate for Torres in the OVR's file.

With this info, Salvatierra demanded that the case be remanded back to the grand jury.

The judge agreed, noting that during oral arguments the prosecutor had conceded that Torres' Vital Records file "was never obtained [by the County Attorney's Office] and neither the prosecutor nor [investigator Oberly] knew the full contents of that long-form birth certificate."

Deputy County Attorney Daniel Strange — face fully bathed in egg — quickly moved to dismiss the charges without prejudice, meaning he could bring them back later.

However, he later conveyed that he had no intention of doing so.

Smart move, since Torres was considering a lawsuit, as she'd lost her apartment and had been separated from her daughter while wrongfully imprisoned.

I mean, why would any civil servant want to double-down on this idiocy?

Dumb question, as the geniuses at Vital Records have demonstrated.

On August 15, OVR chief Patricia Adams wrote to Briseira Torres (not to "Brenda Gomez," natch) advising her that the OVR had "cancelled and sealed" her birth record in 1999 and had documentation to prove it.

Why didn't the OVR turn over all the documents it supposedly had in response to Salvatierra's previous subpoena?

Why did OVR employee Robin Glover, under oath, previously swear that she was turning over everything in the OVR's possession to Torres' lawyers?

And, here's the biggie, if the OVR had canceled Torres' birth certificate in 1999, as Adams stated in her letter, why had it issued copies of the birth record, most recently on February 2, 2011?

Magnanimously, despite the incompetence displayed by her office, Adams offered Torres the opportunity for a public hearing concerning the canceled birth certificate.

Meantime, Torres' life remained in limbo. She would be unable to re-acquire the ID confiscated by authorities. She had lost her residence while in the slammer, had no job, and no way to hunt for a job or a place to stay.

Fortunately, Torres had Salvatierra, whose head nearly combusted upon seeing Adams' letter. Salvatierra soon contacted the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which acts as the OVR's attorney.

Ultimately, the OVR backtracked and admitted that it had not canceled Torres' birth certificate. The OVR's assigned legal beagle, Assistant Attorney General Don Schmid, stated in one filing that he declined to "support or defend a purported cancellation" of Torres' birth certificate.

Nevertheless, the OVR still wants to cancel Torres' birth certificate.

Why? Well, that's the question I asked Schmid and Glover outside the prehearing conference before Administrative Law Judge Kay Abramsohn in October.

Neither chose to reply. Can't ding them for that, as pursuing this case is nearly impossible to justify.

Abramsohn and both parties agreed to hold the official hearing in late March.

Until then, Torres' birth certificate remains officially un-canceled. She and her lawyers recently stopped by an office of the Motor Vehicles Division to get a new copy of her driver's license, which she achieved with relatively little hassle.

Why did she need her lawyers there? Because she feared that she might be arrested. Remember, in March of this year, she thought she was going to pick up her daughter's passport, when she was handcuffed out of the blue.

Now Torres will be looking for work with her new ID and trying to rebuild a life that was interrupted by her jailing.

I suspect the OVR and the AG's Office want to continue with this travesty in hopes of minimizing the state of Arizona's liability for arresting Torres and keeping her in stir.

But I think it is just making things worse — and further burdening Torres with this game of legal Whack-a-Mole.

In response to my records requests for its policy regarding canceling birth certificates, the OVR, which has 35 employees and an annual budget of $3.6 million, coughed up a very vague document, dated — get this — March 12, 2012, two days before Torres' arrest.

It mostly dealt with voiding a duplicate birth certificate, with a few lines added about what should be in the file of one voided "as the result of an administrative decision."

How should such a decision be reached? It doesn't say.

Interestingly, the only policy that existed before March 12 dealt with duplicate birth certificates. (The OVR claims it canceled four birth certificates last year and four this year so far.)

Torres' U.S. birth certificate is for a home birth, and we now know there's a Mexican record of Torres' birth, as well — created by her father, who was residing in Mexico, estranged from Torres' mother in the United States.

Problem is, the Mexican documentation contains inaccurate info and even lists Briseira as a boy. Nor did Briseria have to be present for the document to be created. Her father may have done it simply to establish her dual citizenship.

There is a lot of genuinely conflicting information in Torres' case. But I was struck by one letter from the Glendale Elementary School District, with records attached that document Torres' attending school there continuously under the name "Briseira Torres" from 1986 to 1995.

OVR employees can't go back in time and watch Torres being born at home. Why would they want to? Let's put it this way: If Torres' parents had been Swedish, I doubt you'd be reading this story right now.


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