A new law will invalidate the birth certificates of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans in the state
March 16, 2010
Recent investigations by the U.S. State Department found that 40 percent of passport fraud cases involved stolen Puerto Rican birth certificates, some of which sold for as much as $10,000. In December, Puerto Rico passed a new law to put an end to the fraud. On July 1, 2010, the new law will invalidate all Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before that date — a change that is likely to affect as many as 100,000 residents in Connecticut.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Luis Balzac, regional director of the New York office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, remembers his mother dropping off certified copies of his birth certificate for the PeeWee baseball coach, the local parish of the church, and the director of summer camp.
“I personally saw how my mom was requested to leave copies of the certificate,” says Balzac.
It was a common practice in Puerto Rico to require birth certificates for all kinds of transactions where they really weren’t necessary.
“The average person in Puerto Rico as we grow we leave about 12 to 20 certified copies [of our birth certificate] behind us,” he says. “Not all organizations have the security measures to file and protect these confidential documents.”
Now multiply Balzac’s birth certificates by tens of thousands of others left behind in unsecured offices across Puerto Rico, and it’s not hard to see what led to the thriving black market for Puerto Rican birth certificates. After all, they could be used for everything from getting a U.S. passport to collecting Social Security benefits, thanks to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S territory.
“The common Hispanic names of most individuals born in Puerto Rico made the birth certificates highly desirable on the black market,” says a press release from the PRFAA.
Until the law takes effect, all birth certificates will remain valid. Puerto Rico will begin issuing new birth certificates on July 1 “incorporating technology to limit the possibility of document forgery,” according to the PRFAA Web site.
City Councilman Luis Cotto, who was the first generation of his Puerto Rican family to be born in the United States, estimates this new law will affect at least 20,000 Hartford residents, and up to 100,000 Puerto Rican-born residents across the state of Connecticut.
“A majority of the population in Hartford is Puerto Rican and 50 percent of those are Puerto Rican born,” says Cotto.
To get a new birth certificate, Puerto Rican-born residents of the United States will have to download a birth certificate application form (at salud.gov.pr) fill it out and mail it to the Vital Statistics Records Office in San Juan with a money order for $5 and a photocopy of photo I.D. on or after July 1, 2010.
Cotto is planning to organize “bulk shipments” of the applications to San Juan, and says he’ll do everything he can to expedite the process for residents who may not even be aware of the change.
The message from Balzac is to remain calm. He says Puerto Rican-born U.S. residents should be clear on two things: that they don’t have to travel to Puerto Rico for a new birth certificate; and that they don’t need to panic, given there are many other forms of identification they can use, including a driver’s license, passport and social security card.
“My wife and kids and I are not going to rush and get [new birth certificates],” says Balzac. “We have ample documents showing who we are.”