Puerto Rico is giving islanders one more month to use their original birth certificates before they are no longer recognized, as offices struggle to handle a flood of applications for new, more secure documents [see previous post Puerto Rico issuing new birth IDs to avert fraud]. According to Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth D. McClintock, Governor Luis G. Fortuño has extended the validity of birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 to United States citizens born in Puerto Rico until October 30, 2010. The announcement came a week before the birth certificates were to be voided under a new identity fraud law affecting about 5 million people, including some 1.4 million on the U.S. mainland.
Last December, Puerto Rican lawmakers passed a law voiding all birth certificates and requiring people to get new ones with security features. The change in the U.S. Caribbean territory followed the arrest of a group that stole birth certificates and other personal date belonging to some 7,000 local school children. Officials say that members of the ring broke into about 50 schools across the island and later sold the documents to illegal immigrants on the U.S. mainland, with some turning up as far away as Alaska. In response to the brouhaha that has been created around the birth certificate scandal and subsequent invalidation, Secretary of State McClintock said, “We have created this problem. People on the island have birth certificates improperly stored in all sorts of places.”
Puerto Ricans in the United States complain that some government offices there have already stopped accepting their old birth certificates as proof of identity. Meanwhile, on the island, citizens have been frustrated by long lines to apply for the new documents. McClintock has explained that although the government has established new temporary offices for the Vital Statistics Registry, has expanded the working hours, and offered new alternatives to request birth certificates through the Internet, only those who have an immediate need for a new birth certificate for important transactions in November, December, or January (that require a certificate) should request one during the 37 days before their old certificate expires. Others should wait until the flurry is over to apply.
For those who truly need a new certificate printed on secure paper with new anti-fraud features, the Vital Statistics Office has a new office on the third floor of the Plaza Las Américas shopping mall, next to the State Department’s Service Office. Dozens of new temporary employees have been recruited to operate this new office and to process 24 hours a day the requests filed by mail or through the Internet at https://serviciosenlinea.gobierno.pr/Salud/Language.aspx?goto=nacimiento.
McClintock has stressed that “people should remember that one of the steps we’ve taken to combat ID theft of Puerto Ricans is that no one in Puerto Rico can keep an original birth certificate since it’s illegal to keep someone else’s certified copy. You can be asked to show your birth certificate so it can be copied or information taken from it, but the new birth certificate issued after July 1, 2010 should be held by the citizen for life, not filed away in a school or other places where it can be used to steal the identity of an American citizen born in Puerto Rico.”
Photos of the Secretary of State and flags from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10444151