Scams create paper chase for South Florida Puerto Ricans
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
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.
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 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.