March 13, 2010 | by Robert Friedman
Many stateside Puerto Ricans are having identity problems because of the island’s recent birth certificate law.
Several states, including California, Ohio and Nevada, reportedly have stopped accepting birth certificates of island-born boricuas as proof of identity for driver’s licenses and other documents.
Stories have been appearing in the stateside media about the confusion raining down on many Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland over the law, meant to tackle identity theft sparked by wholesale pilfering of Puerto Rico-issued birth certificates.
Under the law, every single birth certificate issued in Puerto Rico will become invalid starting July 1. After that date, those wanting proof that they were born on the island must apply to the commonwealth government for a new birth certificate, which supposedly will be theft-resistant.
But the aforementioned states already have blocked the use of birth certificates from the island.
More than 1 million of the 4 million Puerto Ricans now living in the states were born on the island.
The misunderstanding has sparked the civil rights group LatinoJustice PRLDF to ask the local government to change the law, which the organization says threatens to make Puerto Ricans targets of the anti-Latino feeling prevalent in parts of the states over immigration.
In a letter to Gov. Fortuño, LatinoJustice President César Perales said the law “creates serious problems for more than 1 million Puerto Rican-born residents of the mainland United States … I ask that you amend and/or implement it in such a way so as to minimize the harm it will otherwise inflict on Puerto Ricans across the mainland.”
He said this harm “may very well be massive.”
Perales said the “immense and very intense anti-Latino climate” spurred by the immigration mess and “the escalating mandate to document one’s identity” brought on by terrorist fears has made this “the worst possible time for the government of Puerto Rico to question the validity of Puerto Rican birth certificates.”
He said later: “Everyone will now begin questioning all documents from Puerto Rico.”
The head of LatinoJustice, which used to be called the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, asked the governor to put off having the island-issued birth certificates invalidated until Dec. 31, to allow federal and local agencies more time to get their acts together in adapting to the new law.
Commonwealth Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock opposes putting off the date, noting that the island government intends to roll out a “multi-pronged” media blitz on the island and the states from April 1 through June 30 on the new Puerto Rico birth certificate rules.
McClintock said Friday that Orlando, Fla., and New York City, where the stateside Puerto Rican populations are the largest, will be especially targeted. Letters will be going out next week from Fortuño, the island Transportation Department and himself to all state governors, motor vehicle bureaus and lieutenant governors explaining the new policy, McClintock said.
He acknowledged that “I don’t know exactly” what the U.S. State Department is going to do, in the case of passport requests, but added that ongoing talks with the feds are under way on how to implement the new policy on the federal front.
Since all the island-born are U.S. citizens, the birth certificates have been a prime object for identity thieves. Supposedly, some 40 percent of all birth certificate thefts involve those issued from the island. The law now bars island public schools, which required an official copy of a student’s birth certificate, from keeping copies of the certificates. Thousands of schools had been broken into over the last few years by identity-theft rings to steal birth certificates. The certificates sell in the states for anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 each, according to McClintock.
He estimates that some 20 million Puerto Rico-issued birth certificates are lying around in the files of island schools, homes, government offices, camps, athletic leagues, etc. McClintock said deals have been made on the island using birth certificates “as legal tender” to buy drugs.