Colombian accused of using fake documents to obtain U.S. citizenship faces deportation

A neighborhood in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico known as La Perla.
A neighborhood in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico known as La Perla. NYT

An undocumented Colombian immigrant who pleaded guilty recently in a case involving the use of a Puerto Rican birth certificate to pose as a U.S. citizen has been sentenced to what amounts to deportation.

At a sentencing hearing March 10, U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas sentenced Edinson Canaveral Sánchez, 35, to probation for five years for pleading guilty to a false statement in an application for a U.S. passport and false claim to U.S. citizenship to secure a Florida driver’s license.

Since Canaveral Sánchez did not get any prison time in his sentence, it means he has to report to federal immigration authorities to be deported to his native Colombia.

“The defendant shall cooperate in any removal proceedings initiated or pending by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the sentencing document said.

The sentencing closes the latest chapter in a long series of similar cases involving the use of Puerto Rican birth certificates by undocumented immigrants in South Florida.

Over the past 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 Canaveral Sánchez might have used a pre-2010 Puerto Rican birth certificate.

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 certificates 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.

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 later.

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 that 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