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Activists tell Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno a new birth certificate law harms mainland residents

March 11, 2010 |  1:39 pm

A new birth certificate law in Puerto Rico creates serious problems for more than 1 million U.S. mainland residents born on the island who now face unjust difficulties if their documents are considered invalid, a civil rights and Latino advocacy group said Thursday.

In a letter to Puerto Rico Gov. Luis G. Fortuno, the New York-based LatinoJustice PRLDEF called for the governor to delay by at least six months the effective date of the law, which as of July invalidates all previously issued birth certificates in an attempt primarily to combat widespread identity theft. The group also urged the governor to allow more time for local and federal agencies to make policy adjustments and called for an extensive public relations campaign to alert Puerto Ricans of the new law.

“I am certain that you understand this new law damages all people born in Puerto Rico who are entitled to have their birth certificates respected and thus undermines the efforts of many of us [who] have worked for decades to secure equal treatment for Puerto Ricans living in the mainland,” wrote Cesar A. Perales, the group’s president and general counsel.

“Here on the mainland no one will remember the date that Puerto Rico purportedly improved its birth certificates,” Perales wrote. “They will only remember that Puerto Rico birth certificates are not to be accepted as valid.”

More than a third of the estimated 4 million people of Puerto Rican descent living throughout the United States must obtain new birth certificates based on the legislature’s action in December. Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth and Puerto Ricans, whether born on the mainland or on the island, are U.S. citizens at birth.

Perales said his group, formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, has already identified problems for mainland Puerto Ricans trying to obtain driver’s licenses. The group is concerned that more issues will arise as citizens seek jobs or government benefits, he said.

-- Efrain Hernandez Jr.