Mixed reactions to voiding of Puerto Rican birth papers

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A law that will void the birth certificates of all Puerto Ricans born there has drawn mixed reactions from some local leaders of Puerto Rican descent.

Puerto Rico officials said the law aims to protect Puerto Ricans from identity theft, strengthen national security and curb illegal immigration by reducing identity theft stemming from fraudulent use of the birth certificates.

When the measure takes effect July 1, the birth certificates of 1.5 million people who were born in Puerto Rico and live stateside will be canceled. The Puerto Rico Department of Health and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration can help process requests for new birth certificates, which cost $5.

Luis Balzac, regional director of the PRFAA's New York office, stressed that only those who have an express need for the document should request it immediately after July 1.

"We don't need to rush," said Balzac, who launched an outreach effort this month to inform the public of the transition.

Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) said Sunday he had not received any calls from constituents. "I don't think it's a big issue here," said Montano, of Puerto Rican descent, born in New York. "If it's administered properly . . . I think it's a good thing."

Census figures show more than 79,000 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties are identified as Puerto Rican. It's unclear how many of those were born in Puerto Rico.

Edwin Melendez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, said the law was "a radical measure" that "creates a bit of a chaotic situation for Puerto Ricans who have migrated to the United States." "When they're invalidated, it's like you're undocumented in your own country," he said.

And Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association's executive director, George Siberon, said: "It troubles me that it [the law] seems to be picking on Puerto Rico as the potential hotbed for terrorism. I don't know what it was that triggered this."Puerto Rico officials have said in published reports that 40 percent of identity fraud cases in the United States involve Puerto Rican birth certificates.

The prevalence is actually much smaller. Puerto Rican birth certificates were used only in 40 percent of the 8,000 passport fraud cases investigated by the federal Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to a statement appended to the text of the new law.

The regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's New York office, Luis M. Balzac, confirmed yesterday that the information appended to the law is accurate.

The first statement was attributed to Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock in an Associated Press report.

- LAURA RIVERA

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