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The Puerto Rican Birth Certificate Problem You Haven't Heard About, Yet

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This could turn into a very big story.  According to this Associated Press story written by Suzanne Gamboa Saturday, every person with a Puerto Rican birth certificate will need to get a new one this year.  A law passed in December invalidates all birth certificates issued by the Commonwealth as of July 1 of this year.

About a third of the 4.1 million Americans of Puerto Rican descent could be affected, AP reports.

The odd thing is, despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens, the reason for the new law relates to immigration.  Documents, especially identity documents that have Spanish-sounding names and confer automatic citizenship, are a hot property on the black market.

Puerto Ricans on average get about 20 copies of their birth certificates over their lifetimes, said Kenneth McClintock Hernandez, the commonwealth's secretary of state.

This is because they are regularly asked to produce them for such events as enrolling children in school or joining sports leagues. Schools and other institutions have typically kept copies, a practice prohibited under the new law since January, McClintock said.

As much as 40 percent of the identity fraud in the U.S. involves birth certificates from Puerto Rico, McClintock said he was told by the State Department.

"It's a problem that's been growing and as the need in the black market for birth certificates with Hispanic-sounding names grew, the black market value of Puerto Rican birth certificates has gone into the $5,000 to $10,000 range," McClintock said.

Puerto Ricans are already getting greater scrutiny because of America’s vexing and often hysterical immigration debate.  As motor vehicle departments have gotten into the business of checking people’s immigration status – especially people with Spanish surnames and/or accents – Puerto Ricans are often asked for “green cards” they, of course, don’t have.

With GOP political strategists thinking up new ways each year to erect barriers to voting – especially for people they think may vote against them – the deadline for resolving this identity issue could have electoral implications in important states with large populations of citizens born in Puerto Rico.

But so far, AP reports, the word has not spread widely:

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., has been getting a steady stream of calls about the law at his district office. Serrano — who must replace his birth certificate, too — said he is trying to provide answers without triggering a panic.

"No one has thought about what effect this could have, if any, on those of us born in Puerto Rico who now reside in the 50 states," Serrano said.

Here’s an idea: What if the United States had a functioning legal immigration system that allowed people to come to the U.S. with visas within reasonable limits and within reasonable time frames?  What if that were combined with a tightly regulated system to get the millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally into the system and legal?  Maybe then we wouldn’t have such a huge black market for false documents and wouldn’t have to twist ourselves in knots with workarounds like invalidating millions of birth certificates.  That’s what immigration reform is for, but the President and Congress don’t seem to be moving forward very quickly.

Read Gamboa’s AP story, but I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this…