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New birth certificates needed

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U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) held a news conference Friday to help Puerto Ricans in Queens obtain new birth certificates, which are being issued to combat widespread identity theft on the island by drug traffickers and people intent on entering the United States illegally.

The government of Puerto Rico passed the law in December requiring citizens to apply for new documentation, which is used to obtain licenses, passports and jobs, whether they live on the island or in the United States. In Puerto Rico birth certificates are required for many transactions and the storage for these documents has been inadequate, creating an opportunity for widespread identity theft by criminals, Meeks said.

“We found there are many birth certificates that were sold on the black market,” he said.

Puerto Ricans have been mandated to apply for the new certificate since their old ones will be voided starting July 1, when the new documents will be issued. Anyone born between June 15 and July 1 will have a 15-day transition period during which they can use their old certificates before getting the new documents, according to Meeks.

Although the process to create the new birth certificates is designed to protect Puerto Ricans, the issue has created confusion for those residents in Queens, the congressman said.

After Karla Reteguis’ son Kyle was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 3, she and her family moved from Puerto Rico to New York to provide the boy with needed medical treatment.

The mother, who works for Meeks, said usually the doctors office would use the boy’s old birth certificate as a form of identification for the medical paperwork, However, when she took her son for his monthly health-care evaluation recently, she was denied services and told to return after July 1, when she would be able to provide a new birth certificate for Kyle,

“I have to reschedule after July 1 for [Kyle] to get evaluated so he can continue to receive his benefits,” she said.

The congressman said her doctor and other offices are working under incorrect information since the old birth certificates are valid until the end of June. As a result Reteguis and others are being erroneously denied services that they are entitled to have, according to Meeks.

“The issue is misunderstood by many, especially government agencies,” he said. “They should accept old birth certificates until new ones come.”

To combat the confusion, Meeks’ office will offer assistance to Puerto Ricans every Saturday in June from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to help citizens get applications for birth certificates in a timely manner. While Meeks is reaching out to Puerto Ricans in Queens, he is also attempting to talk to officials and businesses around the country to clear up misunderstandings and make sure that no one has any hassle when applying for the new documents.

“I’ll be writing a letter ... to the [U.S.] State Department to get something out to every federal agency that the birth certificates of individuals who were born prior to June 15 should still be responded to in a positive way,” said Meeks.

For more information on Meeks’s information sessions call 718-725-6000.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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