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.