Puerto Rico’s government wants its people to believe that they are the cause of an identity fraud crisis, and to correct the problem, it’s treating them like second-class citizens.
Last December, Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Fortuno, signed a law that invalidates all copies of certified Puerto Rican birth certificates. As a result, everyone born in Puerto Rico before this coming July will have to request a new copy. The reason: It’s a matter of U.S. national security.
Or at least that’s what the State Department of Puerto Rico would have their own people believe. In a press release, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock-Hernandez asserted that there was an identity fraud crisis in the United States that was set off by thousands of copies of Puerto Rican birth certificates that are just floating around. McClintock went on to say that 40 percent of all identity theft cases in the United States are caused by fraudulent use of Puerto Rican birth certificates.
In fact, it was reported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that Puerto Rican birth certificates have been used in about 40 percent of passport fraud incidents it has recently investigated. Not 40 percent of all U.S. identity fraud cases.
And while it is true that there is a problem involving the use of Puerto Rican birth certificates, this hardly constitutes a threat large enough to invalidate the identity proof of an entire island of 4 million U.S. citizens. Plus, the minimum cost of $5 per birth certificate imposed by the government comes off as a desperate move to raise money for an economy racked by high unemployment and recession.
The law is an unnecessary burden on Puerto Ricans on the island, as well as those born there and currently living in the United States. Would a similar-sized U.S. state, such as Kentucky (population also 4 million), be treated this way? A recommitment to immigration reform would do a lot more to combat the problem of identity fraud than punishing millions of American citizens.
Puerto Ricans don’t deserve being a scapegoat for a much larger problem.
Ed Morales is a contributor to the New York Times and Newsday and is the author of “Living in Spanglish.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.