Mark Esqueda served our country not once, but twice: First as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then in the Army National Guard.

Being in the military was his dream since he was a kid growing up in southern Minnesota. He enlisted and started serving right after graduating from high school.

“I don’t like to tell people I’m a veteran,” Mark said. “I didn’t do it for the recognition. I don’t like to be called a hero. I love this country. I did it for my country. I would have done it even if I hadn’t been paid.”

“I truly believe that there is no better country than the U.S.,” he added. “That’s why I felt serving was my duty – I just had­ to give back.”

But now our government is questioning the citizenship of this proud and modest veteran. The State Department has twice denied his passport application, claiming it has reason to believe the midwife who delivered Mark on the border town of Hidalgo, Texas, is not reliable.

“To have them question my citizenship is an insult,” Mark said. “I was born here, raised here and served my country here. It’s being told I did not belong here.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is representing Mark with help from Greene Espel law firm. We plan to sue the federal government to have Mark declared a U.S. citizen.

 “Greene Espel is proud to be partnering with the ACLU of Minnesota to represent Mark and enforce his rights as a U.S. citizen,” said Greene Espel attorney Jenny Gassman-Pines. “Mark was born here and bravely served our country in the military. What the government has demanded from Mark goes well beyond its own requirements to prove his citizenship. We look forward to holding the government accountable and getting Mark the recognition he deserves as a citizen and patriot.”

The government’s standard for proof in these passport cases is a preponderance of the evidence, which just means something is more likely than not. Mark has already provided his birth certificate, proof of his military security clearance that’s only given to citizens, affidavits from witnesses who saw his pregnant mother in Texas near the time of his birth, and the signature of a police officer who was witness to his birth. The government is demanding even more proof, violating its own standards and rules.

The national ACLU sued the government in 2008 for similar behavior and won. The lawsuit charged that the State Department violated the due process and equal protection rights of U.S. citizens delivered by midwives along the southern border by forcing them to provide an excessive number of documents normally not required to prove citizenship.

Even after these citizens provided further proof of citizenship, the State Department closed applications without explanation. In a 2009 settlement, the State Department agreed to new procedures to ensure the fair and prompt review of these U.S. passport applications; it also agreed it wouldn’t deny passports to eligible citizens.

Unfortunately, the government is up to its old tricks. Lawyers along the border say they’re seeing an increasing number of people denied passports who were delivered by midwives near the border, even though that’s a common birthing practice in the region.

KSTP INVESTIGATES took to a trip to Mark’s birth town of Hidalgo, Texas. They found his midwife, Roberto Nuñez, still delivering babies at Hidalgo Maternity Center.

The news team’s video shows Nuñez entering a room filled with cabinets of meticulously kept medical records documenting every birth he’s attended. They are filed by month and year.  Nuñez went right to the folder with Mark’s records, showing he was baby number 430.

“Proof,” Nuñez told KSTP. “I got it.”

The day of Mark’s birth is an oft-told family story. His truck-driving father was on the road, so his mother dropped his little sister off with a neighbor, then took a taxi by herself to the Hidalgo Maternity Center.

Mark was the first boy born in that generation. His dad called to tell everyone in Mexico, where they had a big celebration.

Today Mark lives in southwestern Minnesota, where he spent much of his youth. He works as a millwright building grain elevators for a living and is studying to become a nurse.

He initially applied for his passport just to have it. But his need grew more pressing the second time: He wanted to visit his sister, who’s married to a military man serving in Europe, and meet his new niece after her birth.

While Mark still wants to travel, the denial of his passport has grown beyond this basic need and right. What happens someday when he applies for the Social Security he has earned? And what happens to others like him who were born near the border and now find themselves in government limbo?

“As an American, I deserve the same rights as anyone else,” he said. “I want to make them (the government) feel ashamed for having put me or anyone else through this.”