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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
"Hey, You Guuuuuuys!" Why Rita Moreno Needs A New Birth Certificate...and You Might, Too

Nobody knows in America...
Puerto Rico's in America!

~"America", West Side Story, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Anyone who has sat through fourth grade Social Studies, or who has ever paid attention to the lyrics of West Side Story, knows that people born in Puerto Rico (or, indeed, any of America's territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands) are American citizens.

What you may not know is that effective July 1, 2010, just one month from now, per Puerto Rico's Law 191 of 2009, the birth certificates of everyone born in Puerto Rico will become null and void...and they will all have to get new ones. That means you, Rita Moreno, José Feliciano, Ricky Martin and Benicio del Toro!


Here at Paper Doll, we've often discussed the importance of VIPs (Very Important Papers) and how to find replacement documents. But why new birth certificates? Is everyone on La Isla del Incanto (The Island of Enchantment) having a collective New Age-y rebirth?

Actually, according to a March story on NPR that explains the issue in some detail, the current system for use of birth certificates has been rife with problems, leaving Puerto Rico-born citizens vulnerable to identity theft of grand proportions, including destroyed credit histories and stolen Social Security benefits. It has also been the basis of 40% of passport application fraud cases investigated by the U.S. Department of State.

Here, if we are asked for proof of birth for official reasons, we need to provide an official birth certificate, for which we must pay a fee to some governing entity in the county or municipality where we were born, as we've discussed previously. However, to prove our child is old enough to play PeeWee soccer, a non-official photocopy is usually fine and dandy.

In Puerto Rico, various agencies and organizations have generally required submission of actual official birth certificates, causing parents to plunk down $5 each for multiple copies of their children's birth certificates. Whereas we might have merely had to present copies of official birth certificates for examination, residents of Puerto Rico have been expected to actually leave their originals with the requesting parties. Kenneth McClintock Hernandez, Puerto Rico's Secretary of State, says Puerto Ricans acquire an average of twenty official birth certificates over the course of a lifetime, and according to the text of the explanatory section of the new law, most of these certificates are usually for entirely non-governmental, unofficial purposes.

As media coverage has noted, this means that in addition to official government agencies, everyone from schools to athletic coaches to music teachers to summer camps have possession of multitudes of unguarded birth certificates. In fact, the new legislation is, in part, resulting from March 2009 arrests related to a crime ring stealing thousands of birth certificates from elementary and secondary school files throughout Puerto Rico. The purloined certificates would have been sold on the black market, at a rate currently valued at upwards of $10,000 per document!

The new Law Prohibiting Public and Private Entities from Retaining, Storing, or Holding Certified Copies of Birth Certificates, enacted this past December, amends the Law on Vital Statistics, such that, as of July 1, 2010:

--Every birth certificate registered in Puerto Rico prior to 7/1/2010 will be invalidated and (upon request) will be replaced by a new one; and
--No individual will be allowed to receive or stockpile official birth certificates other than their own (or those of family members for whom they are legal guardians)

To apply for a new birth certificate online, go to http://www.pr.gov/gprportal/inicio and then click on the Certificado de Nacimiento link. You'll be able to securely upload a scan of any valid government-issued photo identification document (in .jpeg, .jpg or .pdf format), such as a passport or driver's license, pay by credit card (Visa or MasterCard only) and receive an electronic receipt.

To apply by mail from outside of Puerto Rico:
  • Print out and fill in the form at this link
  • Enclose a $5.00 Money Order payable to Secretary of the Treasury
  • Enclose a photocopy of a valid government-issued photo ID document, such as a passport or driver's license
  • Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope
  • Mail the form and money order to:
Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Record Office
(Registro Demográfico)
P.O. Box 11854
San Juan, PR 00910
  • If you want to use a premium delivery service, such as FedEx or UPS, send the same paperwork to:
Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Record Office
(Registro Demográfico)
171 Quisqueya Street
Hato Rey, PR 00917

The new birth certificates will start being mailed as of July 1, 2010. They will have no expiration date, and residents of Puerto Rico will no longer be required to submit multiple original "official" copies of birth certificates for common transactions.

Although new birth certificates will cost $5, the fee will be waived for anyone over the age of 60 and for veterans (who will have to present their Department of Defense Form 214 - Discharge Papers and Separation Documents - which we've discussed previously).

If you were born in Puerto Rico for any reason, whether because your family was living there or temporarily visiting (on vacation, residing on a military base, etc.), you'll need to get a new birth certificate eventually, to apply for a passport or to register for Social Security benefits. Also, although not all states require birth certificates to apply for a new driver's license, many states, including Florida, Oregon, Maryland, Utah and Indiana, as a result of the REAL ID Act of 2005, have recently changed their regulations to require birth certificates as part of the application process.

But don't worry, there's no rush. If you're not traveling or applying for anything official in the near term, consider making a note on your calendar to apply at the end of the summer, after the big rush has subsided.

For more information on the new law, you can visit the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's Birth Certificate Page.

Finally, Puerto Rican authorities have been concerned that this new law has not received ample media coverage. If you know someone who was born in Puerto Rico, please chat about this, and if you encounter anyone not familiar with the new law, please pass this post or any of the appropriate links along to them. Oh, and if you know Rita or José, Ricky or Benicio, please tell them hello from Paper Doll.


Speaking of vital documents, including passports, did you know there is an alternative to the traditional passport book that is less expensive, less cumbersome, and still enables you to return to the U.S. from land and sea trips in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean?  And might you be interested in cards that are somewhat more expensive, but let you skip long customs checkpoints at airports?

Next week, we'll be discussing some important alternative travel documents that will help you save time and money. Until then, happy June!

posted on: 6/1/2010 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Monica Ricci on 6/1/2010 11:26:11 AM:

I have nothing to add -- how could I possibly augment this post Juls? I would however like to go on record that I know every word to every song in West Side Story. I'm a dork I know. But I love that musical! :o)

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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