Ohio BMVs still rejecting valid Puerto Rican Birth Certificates
But are now accepting other forms of identification, according to Cleveland’s Legal Aid Society
By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent
José Pagán, of Cleveland, was trying to enroll in a local school to acquire his GED. But when he tried to receive a state-issued Ohio identification card, his old Puerto Rican birth certificate was rejected by the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.
Pagán perhaps fared better than other Puerto Ricans in Ohio however.
He contacted the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and within two weeks of the rejection, he was able to give an alternative document to the BMV to finally receive his ID.
Although the government of Puerto Rico extended the validity of older Puerto Rican birth certificates until Sept. 30, 2010, Ohio BMVs have been rejecting them as valid forms of identification since April, causing frustration for many Puerto Ricans, an outcry among civil rights groups, and a local group to consider taking legal action against Ohio BMVs.
Agustin Ponce de León, attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said they are still considering taking legal action against Ohio BMVs but wants Ohio’s Puerto Rican residents to know the progress made.
He said the Ohio BMVs are working on a case-by-case basis and accepting other forms of documents for those with older Puerto Rican birth certificates, though he added he does not know what those alternative documents are.
Puerto Rico passed a law earlier this year requiring all birth certificates issued prior to July 1, 2010 to be reissued as they will no longer be valid, in order to combat fraud and identify theft.
The law change came after the U.S. State Department informed the island’s leaders last year that 40 percent of 8,000 recent cases of passport fraud involved Puerto Rican birth certificates.
“We want Ohio residents to know that if they are having problems, if their BMV office will not accept other forms of identification or other documents to contact our hotline,” Ponce de León said. The hotline is in both English and Spanish, at (888) 817-3777.
He said although their hotline has received only a few calls each day, he suspects there could be more Puerto Ricans affected. There are roughly 4 million Puerto Ricans in the continental United States that will eventually need an updated birth certificate. Many who’ve applied have been waiting for six weeks or more to receive their new certificates.
He added those affected go beyond those in need of acquiring a driver’s license; the need for a new birth certificate and new ID could also apply to those seeking public housing benefits, opening up a bank account as well as attending school.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU), Hispanic Alliance, and the League of United Latin American Citizens Ohio (LULAC) called on Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to urge the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to accept all valid forms of identification from those who wish to acquire an ID, including birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 until the new deadline Sept. 30, 2010.
Unlike other states, Ohio has continued to reject them. One deputy at the Lorain Bureau of Motor Vehicles said the extension does not apply to them. Ponce de León said it should apply but to the very least other documents or forms of identification should be accepted.
“A state-issued ID is vital for people to access important social services, employment, voting and travel throughout the country,” said Hispanic Alliance Director Carlos Chinchilla.
Ponce de León also recommends Puerto Ricans in need of a new birth certificate to do so by purchasing one at vital chek.com, instead of the Puerto Rican government website. Vital Chek, though more costly, may be faster, he said.
LULAC Ohio State Director Jason Riveiro added: “It is fundamentally unfair to treat one group of citizens differently than another. The BMV has left many citizens around the state in limbo, as they must wait weeks or months before the Puerto Rican government can issue them a new birth certificate. Many people do not have other acceptable forms of ID other than their birth certificate, and were given little or no warning by the BMV that they would not accept their documents.”
To request a new birth certificate, visit www.prfaa.com/birthcertificates/, or visit http://www.salud.gov.pr , send $5 and a self-addressed stamped envelope, and a copy of a valid ID.
Contact Vital Chek at http://www.vitalchek.com /
Contact The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland at (216) 687-1900, 1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland, and online at http://www.lasclev.org/