Cleve­land res­i­dent Alfre­do Jose Pagan needs a pho­to ID to reg­is­ter for his GED exam. But when he went to the license bureau, he was told his Puer­to Rican birth cer­tifi­cate was unac­cept­able.

Lati­no­Jus­tice PRLDEF has been informed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Puer­to Rico gov­ern­ment that it will extend the valid­i­ty of all island-issued birth cer­tifi­cates through the end of Sep­tem­ber, cre­at­ing a three month tran­si­tion peri­od while offi­cials begin issu­ing new cer­tifi­cates July 1.

In Decem­ber 2009, the Puer­to Rico leg­is­la­ture passed a law stat­ing that all birth cer­tifi­cates issued before July 1, 2010 would have to be replaced, in effect inval­i­dat­ing the birth records of mil­lions of island and U.S. main­land res­i­dents. Lati­no­Jus­tice PRLDEF Pres­i­dent and Gen­er­al Coun­sel Cesar A. Perales sent a let­ter to the gov­er­nor point­ing to numer­ous prob­lems with the law, and urged the gov­er­nor to cre­ate a six-month tran­si­tion peri­od to cope with con­fu­sion the law was caus­ing for gov­ern­ment offi­cials and res­i­dents on the island and in the main­land Unit­ed States.

In his let­ter to the Puer­to Rico gov­er­nor, Perales explained that at a time of grow­ing anti-Lati­no sen­ti­ment and sus­pi­cion, this law only adds to the esca­lat­ing man­date to doc­u­ment the iden­ti­ty of Lati­nos for obtain­ing jobs, driver’s licens­es, and gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits. (Arizona’s SB1070 law is one recent exam­ple of this).

“While the cre­ation of this tran­si­tion peri­od alle­vi­ates some of the con­fu­sion cre­at­ed by the new law, it does not address the big­ger prob­lem of putting into doubt all doc­u­men­ta­tion issued by the island of Puer­to Rico,” Perales said.

“We still think it is very impor­tant that the gov­ern­ment of Puer­to Rico make a stronger effort to edu­cate gov­ern­ment offi­cials and the gen­er­al pub­lic about this law. There are 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple born in Puer­to Rico who now live on the main­land, who need their birth cer­tifi­cates to do every­thing from reg­is­ter­ing for school to apply­ing for pass­ports. They should not have to endure any fur­ther hard­ships because of this poor­ly-timed pol­i­cy.”

Though the law does not go into effect until July 1, major prob­lems have arisen at depart­ment of motor vehi­cle offices around the main­land Unit­ed States, cre­at­ing seri­ous hard­ships for Puer­to Rico-born res­i­dents. In Geor­gia, a resident’s birth cer­tifi­cate was con­fis­cat­ed, and in Iowa, a res­i­dent was forced to meet with a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor and answer ques­tions that “proved” she was Puer­to Rican. Cal­i­for­nia, Ohio and Neva­da cre­at­ed poli­cies effec­tive before the law took place that would not accept birth cer­tifi­cates from Puer­to Rico as proof of birth. (These poli­cies have all since been revised).

Peo­ple born in Puer­to Rico, a U.S. com­mon­wealth, are U.S. cit­i­zens at birth. Puer­to Rico’s leg­is­la­ture said they passed the law after raids last March broke up a crim­i­nal ring that had stolen thou­sands of birth cer­tifi­cates and oth­er iden­ti­fy­ing doc­u­ments from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent schools in Puer­to Rico.

For more infor­ma­tion about the new birth cer­tifi­cates, includ­ing the text of the law, along with paper and elec­tron­ic appli­ca­tions and fact sheets. vis­it the Puer­to Rico Fed­er­al Affairs Administration’s web­site.