Scams create paper chase for South Florida Puerto Ricans
Puerto Ricans in South Florida and across the United States are scrambling to understand a new island law that requires renewal of birth certificates.

   Elvin Gonzalez was born in Puerto Rico but has lived much of his life in Miami.
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Elvin Gonzalez was born in Puerto Rico but has lived much of his life in Miami.

Miami resident Elvin González, a retired assistant chef, knows firsthand why the Puerto Rican government is requiring him and other island-born Puerto Ricans to renew their birth certificates.

A few years back, one of his relatives sold his birth certificate and Social Security number to a non-U.S. resident, who ran up $21,000 in debt. Creditors turned to the Gonzalez family to pay up.
``That created a lot of problems for us,'' said the 63-year-old González, who was born on the island but has lived much of his life in Miami.

Under a new law approved in December, González and all other island-born Puerto Ricans must replace their old birth certificates. Most old birth certificates become invalid on July 1.

Widespread fraud is to blame for the new requirement, say U.S. and Puerto Rican authorities, who said Puerto Rican birth certificates are being sold -- for up to $10,000 each -- to Spanish-speaking foreign nationals who then pose as Puerto Ricans to obtain a U.S. passport and illegally immigrate to the United States.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, so they are not required to carry immigration documents to move to and from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.

Ryan Dooley, regional director of the U.S. passport office in Miami, testified before a Puerto Rican Senate commission in September about three cases in which undocumented Dominicans used Puerto Rican birth certificates to seek U.S. passports.

State Department officials report that about 40 percent of U.S. passport fraud cases are linked to Puerto Rican birth certificates.

Adam Levin, chairman of the U.S. company Identity Theft 911, called the Puerto Rican measure ``draconian,'' but perhaps necessary in light of the rampant identity theft.
``There is an enormous value increase in Puerto Rican birth certificates because they are a gateway for a U.S. passport for people who are not entitled to one,'' said Levin.

There are an estimated 1.4 or 1.5 million island-born Puerto Ricans on the mainland, including about 700,000 in Florida and 200,000 in Broward and Miami-Dade. Florida is considered to have the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans on the mainland.

While Puerto Rican government officials do not want a sudden flood of requests, the July deadline is likely to spur a flood of applications.``We have received many phone calls from Puerto Ricans here and from as far away as Tampa and Orlando asking about the measure,'' said Luis de Rosa, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of South Florida, Miami office. De Rosa has teamed up with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa to hold a public meeting on May 12 at the commissioner's district office, 1000 SW 57th Ave., Suite 201, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Other Puerto Rican community organizations are also planning informational events, according to Sandra Rosa, the PROFESA chairwoman for the South Florida chapter.Luis Balzac, regional director for the Office of Puerto Rico Federal Affairs in New York, is urging Puerto Ricans not to immediately file for a new birth certificate to avoid an avalanche of applications. ``People should ask themselves, when was the last time they used their birth certificates, and if they can't remember, they probably don't need one right away,'' said Balzac. `They can get it at a later date.''
In Florida, those Puerto Ricans seeking for the first time to get a U.S. passport or driver's license will need the new birth certificate, according to local officials. Those renewing an existing U.S. passport or driver's license do not need the birth certificate as primary identification.In Florida, a passport or birth certificate -- but not both -- are among documents required to renew a license.Puerto Ricans interviewed in South Florida welcome the new measure because they say it will shield them from potential identity theft. ``It's something we need to do, to protect ourselves,'' said Maritza Deliz, a Puerto Rican whose parents brought her to South Florida when she was 3 months old. She now works in an eye care business north of downtown Miami.

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