Crime

Colombian immigrant accused of posing as Puerto Rican to obtain license

In this photograph from August 30, 2010, Alfredo Pagan shows his birth Puerto Rican birth certificate in Cleveland, Ohio. Pagan was rejected when he tried to obtain a state identification in Ohio because his Puerto Rican birth certificate was considered invalid. There has been a series of cases involving the use of false Puerto Rican birth certificates to obtain legal documents.
In this photograph from August 30, 2010, Alfredo Pagan shows his birth Puerto Rican birth certificate in Cleveland, Ohio. Pagan was rejected when he tried to obtain a state identification in Ohio because his Puerto Rican birth certificate was considered invalid. There has been a series of cases involving the use of false Puerto Rican birth certificates to obtain legal documents. AP

An undocumented Colombian immigrant has been arrested in South Florida after obtaining a Florida driver’s license and seeking a U.S. passport by claiming to be an American citizen born in Puerto Rico, federal court records show.

Edinson Canaveral Sánchez, 35, is now awaiting trial in January in Fort Lauderdale federal court on charges of making a false statement in a passport application and falsely claiming U.S. citizenship to obtain the driver license.

This is only the latest in a lengthy series of cases involving the use of false Puerto Rican birth certificates by undocumented immigrants in South Florida. Over the last 12 months, more than a dozen cases have popped up in Miami federal court involving defendants who have illegally procured Puerto Rican certificates to obtain U.S. passports or driver licenses. The cases have emerged despite toughened regulations after Puerto Rico mandated the replacement of birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010.

While court records do not say whether Canaveral Sánchez used a pre-2010 Puerto Rican birth certificate, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) criminal complaint against him says he obtained the Florida driver license in Pompano Beach on Aug. 2, 2012.

The case is outlined in a criminal complaint filed Sept. 4 by an HSI special agent. Some of the people listed in the complaint are identified only by their initials.

“Records from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (‘Florida DMV’) database show that on or about August 2, 2012, an individual claiming to be R.L.R. applied for and obtained a Florida driver license at a Florida DMV office in Pompano Beach, Florida, in Broward County,” the complaint said.

It added that the individual, later identified as Canaveral Sánchez, said in the driver license application that his place of birth was Puerto Rico, and to prove it he presented a Puerto Rican birth certificate and a social security card, both issued to R.L.R.

Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. As a result Puerto Rican birth certificates are potentially useful to Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants because they can often portray themselves as Puerto Rican.

It was the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) that discovered the issue when its investigators realized that other Florida driver licenses had been issued in R.L.R.’s name to several people.

On Sept. 3, the complaint says, law enforcement arrested Canaveral Sánchez after he admitted that he was a Colombian who illegally entered the United States through San Diego, California, in 2001.

The HSI complaint does not say how, when or where Canaveral Sánchez obtained the Puerto Rican birth certificate and whether he paid for it.

An HSI spokesman said he would not comment because the case was still under investigation. The defendant’s attorney, a federal public defender, also declined comment.

Canaveral Sánchez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Sept. 22.

Trial has been set in Fort Lauderdale federal court for January.

The false Puerto Rican birth certificate cases have come as a surprise because they were not supposed to be happening after Puerto Rico invalidated the old birth certificates.

On July 1, 2010, the Vital Statistics Office of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico began issuing new, ostensibly more secure certified copies of birth certificates to people born in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico issued the new birth certificates under a new law which resulted from widespread evidence of fraud and identity theft involving the sale of legitimate birth certificates by some Puerto Ricans to non-Puerto Ricans, particularly undocumented immigrants from Latin America, who could then claim to be U.S. citizens.

Federal officials have said that at least 40 percent of U.S. passport fraud cases have been linked to Puerto Rican birth certificates.

Alfonso Chardy : 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy

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