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BOSTON -- A change in the law has voided the birth certificates of approximately five million Puerto Ricans, including some 1.4 million on the U.S. mainland, if they were issued before July 1, 2010. The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts urge those affected to take steps now to obtain new birth certificates, and to report any problems or delays in obtaining new birth certificates from Puerto Rico, or in obtaining IDs and driver's licenses from Massachusetts, which often depend on having a valid birth certificate.
On November 1, 2010, the Puerto Rican government invalidated the birth certificates of all persons born in Puerto Rico before July 1, 2010. The Vital Statistics Record Office responsible for issuing new, allegedly more secure birth certificates has been unable to cope with the flood of applications, which number more than 1.9 million since September. Many applicants report long lines and extensive processing delays.
MLRI and the ACLU of Massachusetts are particularly concerned that some Puerto Rican-born residents may find themselves in a catch-22 situation, unable to begin the birth certificate replacement process for lack of a current government-issued photo ID. They note that a valid birth certificate is one of the main documents used to obtain a Massachusetts state ID or a driver's license, but without one of these forms of ID or a U.S. passport, it is nearly impossible to receive a new birth certificate.
While a number of federal and state agencies have developed policies to ensure that the Puerto Rican-born are not denied access to food stamps, Medicaid, and other services as a result of difficulties in obtaining a new birth certificate, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) has not done so.
"We are trying to collect information about the problems Puerto Ricans living in Massachusetts may be having because of the voiding of their birth certificates," said Alexia DeVincentis, a legal fellow at the ACLU of Massachusetts. "We urge people to contact us if they have tried to apply for a driver's license or state ID and have been rejected because they do not have a new birth certificate from Puerto Rico." People with problems to report can contact the ACLU at 617-482-3170.
Information about how to apply for a new birth certificate from Puerto Rico can be found online at www.vitalchek.com or www.pr.gov, or by phone through the 24-hour bilingual call center at 1-866-842-6765.
For more information about the MLRI, go to: www.mlri.org