Immigrant pleads guilty to using fake birth certificate to obtain a U.S. documents

An undocumented Colombian immigrant has pleaded guilty in a case involving the use of a fake Puerto Rican birth certificate to obtain a U.S. passport and a Florida driver’s license, federal court documents show.

Edinson Canaveral Sánchez, 35, is now awaiting a sentencing hearing in March in Fort Lauderdale federal court after pleading guilty last week to charges of making a false statement in a passport application and falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.

The case is only the latest in a series of similar cases involving the use of 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.

Court records released in connection with the guilty plea indicate the defendant might have used a pre-2010 Puerto Rican birth certificate. That had one been one of the mysteries in the case, whether Canaveral Sánchez used one of the old certificates or one of the new ostensibly fraud-proof documents.

The guilty proffer in the case shows Canaveral Sánchez first used the Puerto Rican birth certificate on June 30, 2010 – one day before the old passports became invalid. He used the Puerto Rican certificate again two years later — on Aug. 2, 2012 — to obtain a Florida driver’s license, according to court records.

These records do not say how Canaveral Sánchez obtained the fake Puerto Rican birth certificate. But the plea agreement suggests that once he serves his sentence, he may be deported to his native Colombia.

The case was outlined in a criminal complaint filed Sept. 4 by a special agent of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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 then portray themselves as Puerto Rican.

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.

Canaveral Sánchez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Sept. 22, but changed his plea last week.

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

The continuing appearance in courts of 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.

Puerto Rico issued 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.