Thursday, September 2, 2010

Puerto Rico's Birth Certificate Controversy

Somehow, you knew it would come to this.  Under a new law, old birth certificates issued by the government of Puerto Rico would no longer be valid after July 1, 2010.  Foreseeing problems with this deadline, the government extended it by three months.  The claim then, as now, is that these birth certificates are prone to misuse and particularly identity theft.

A few days ago, the inevitable happened.  According to a report from the Associated Press, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles is not accepting the old birth certificates from those applying for a state identification card or a driver's licence.

In fairness to state officials and bureaucrats at the Ohio BMV, the old birth certificates are in Spanish, with translated language in parentheses.  It is also true -- at least as far as my old birth certificate is concerned, that the words "United States" appear nowhere within the certificate.

And yet, this story makes you feel oddly uncomfortable, especially if you happen to be, like me, a citizen of Puerto Rico, born on the island and residing in the continental United States.
For one, how does the person behind the counter that the local BMV decide to reject the birth certificate?  Is it because the piece of paper looks foreign?  Because it is in Spanish?  Or could it possibly be because the holder of the certificate, like Alfredo Pagan, below, looks like an illegal immigrant?

Of course, one could always chalk up this incident to the overzealousness of an underpaid state official.  But extend this incident to its logical resting place, while keeping in mind S.B. 1070, Arizona's immigration law: Could the time when individual states refuse to accept legitimate documents from Latinos be that far behind?  If you think this is far-fetched, then I'd say you are not paying close attention.  This is an issue a heartbeat away from a Glen Beck rally, a Limbaugh rant on the radio, and a concomitant rally in Washington in memory of the civil rights movement.

Next thing you know, the U.S. government will not allow American citizens living in its territories to vote in U.S. elections.

Oh wait.

Nobody said colonialism would be easy.

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