(April 21) — In a dramatic bid to end fraud, identity theft and illegal immigration, Puerto Rico is voiding all birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 — forcing more than 5 million people to apply for new ones.
The move will “protect the identity of all Puerto Ricans born on the island, and at the same time help the federal government with national security issues,” Luis Balzac, spokesman for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said in a phone interview with AOL News.
According to the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security, Puerto Rican birth certificates account for about 40 percent of all cases of passport fraud every year, ABC reports.
Under the law, which was passed in December, some 4 million island residents and another 1.2 Puerto Ricans living in the United States will lose their current birth certificates. They must apply for new ones that have been redesigned to be less susceptible to fraud.
In the law, the Puerto Rican legislature says the island’s birth certificates “facilitate criminal conduct of all types,” such as “fraudulently obtaining immigration benefits, narcotics trafficking, credit procurement, terrorism and the trafficking of women and children.”
The fact that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens makes their birth certificates a hot commodity, especially among residents of other Spanish-speaking regions who use them via identity-theft schemes as their ticket into the United States. The documents sometimes sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
“There is an enormous value increase in Puerto Rican birth certificates because they are a gateway for a U.S. passport for people who are not entitled to one,” Adam Levin, chairman of a U.S‑based identity-theft company, told the Miami Herald.
Earlier this year, the New York Daily News reported that California, Ohio and Nevada had all stopped accepting Puerto Rican birth certificates as a valid form of ID.
Like other U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans use birth certificates to gain access to Medicaid and Social Security benefits. But, in a twist that makes the documents even easier to use illegally, the island’s residents also use them for everyday activities like religious events and signing their children up for baseball.
“The common practice is that we would provide a certified copy of our birth certificate and leave it behind,” Balzac said. “The result is that a baseball coach may not have a secure location to keep these birth certificates, and we end up with a mass amount of certified copies out in the market. This law will stop that.”
In 2008 the Puerto Rican Office of Vital Statistics issued 860,000 birth certificates, but only 45,622 children were born that year, ABC reports.
U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, D‑N.Y., who is Puerto Rican, said the law could prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare for Puerto Ricans living in the United States. “My office is being inundated with questions about this new policy,” he told ABC. “This could be a major problem for many of my constituents’ applications for benefits, passports and driver’s licenses, among other things.”
Puerto Ricans can apply for a new birth certificate online for $5 on July 1.
From AOL NEWS