National

Puerto Rican birth certificates are sold to undocumented immigrants

In this photo from 2010, Puerto Rico's Alfredo Pagan shows his birth certificate in Cleveland after the licensing office in the city of Ohio prohibited him from obtaining a state identification card. The state rejected the request because Pagan’s birth certificate had become invalid after Puerto Rico required people born on the island to obtain a new “security-enhanced” certificate.
In this photo from 2010, Puerto Rico's Alfredo Pagan shows his birth certificate in Cleveland after the licensing office in the city of Ohio prohibited him from obtaining a state identification card. The state rejected the request because Pagan’s birth certificate had become invalid after Puerto Rico required people born on the island to obtain a new “security-enhanced” certificate. AP

Six years ago, Puerto Rico passed a law that invalidated all existing birth certificates and required people born on the island to obtain a new “security-enhanced” certificate.

U.S. officials said the new birth certificates would thwart the illicit sale or theft of old certificates so undocumented foreign nationals could no longer use them to obtain U.S. passports or driver licenses. Undocumented immigrants with Puerto Rican birth certificates could then pose as U.S. citizens since Puerto Ricans are Americans by birth.

Whether the program has been successful is unclear.

Over the last 12 months, half a dozen cases have popped up in Miami federal court involving defendants who have illegally procured Puerto Rican birth certificates to obtain passports or driver licenses.

A State Department spokeswoman said she was going to look into the matter, but ultimately did not respond to an email query from el Nuevo Herald. A spokesman for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration also did not respond to an email query from el Nuevo Herald.

When the Puerto Rican birth certificate law was enacted in December 2013, officials in San Juan said it was a tool to combat widespread identity theft on the island.

It came on the heels of a series of law enforcement raids on the island that disrupted a criminal organization that allegedly had stolen thousands of birth certificates from schools. The island’s legislature also acted after lawmakers learned that up to 40 percent of ID fraud on the mainland involves Puerto Rican birth certificates.

While officials in 2013 did not say Puerto Rican birth certificate scams would end under the new system, the general expectation was that such ID theft would be more difficult.

But the recent cases found in Miami Federal Court indicate that the problem may still be significant.

For example, last June 10, a woman named Raiza Melissa Sánchez Romero, who arrived at MIA on an American Airlines flight from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, sought entry into the country using a U.S. passport.

When something did not appear right, an MIA passport control officer pulled Sánchez out of the regular immigration line and sent her to an office to be interrogated further.

There, Sánchez acknowledged that she was a Honduran, not an American, and that she had obtained the passport using a Puerto Rican birth certificate he had bought, along with a Social Security Card, for $1,500.

In another case, a suspect identified in a criminal complaint as Roberto Hernández Reyes was accused in March 2014 of obtaining a Florida driver’s license while using the identity of a Puerto Rican – Anthony Medina Torres – who at the time was an inmate in a jail in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

After being arrested Hernández acknowledged being a Honduran, not a Puerto Rican. He also disclosed that he had paid $2,500 for a Puerto Rican birth certificate and a Social Security Card.

These are just two examples in Miami of similar cases in other parts of the country. Florida Watchdog. Org, a website that seeks more transparency in government, said in an article last year that despite the law that scrapped the old birth certificates, Puerto Ricans are still selling their new certificates to undocumented immigrants.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

  Comments