02/2012

Puerto Rican Birth Certificate Causes Confusion

Carmen Vélez

When Carmen Vélez tried to renew her car tag in Athens, Ala., she was told she needed to show her birth certificate.

She had not brought it because she didn’t think it was necessary. She returned later with two copies—and older copy and a newer one. The attendant refused to accept them, saying she need a U.S. birth certificate.

Carmen was at a loss. She was born in Puerto Rico, which is, of course, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its residents have been U.S. citizens for nearly a century.

“I thought they were joking with me,” said Carmen, 44. “I couldn’t believe it. I never thought they wouldn’t know that Puerto Rico was part of the U.S.”

Her ordeal is an example of how HB 56 complicates the most mundane tasks for many Latinos, even those with legal status. She never had this problem before the law took effect.

Carmen tried to explain that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but it seemed futile. She became upset. Finally, the attendant asked for another form of identification. She took Carmen’s driver’s license and told her to wait.

She waited for two hours with her 5-year-old son. “Everyone was looking at me like I had two heads.”

Finally, the attendant appeared after speaking with another official.

“She called me back up and said we’ll take a copy of your birth certificate, but next year when you come in you’ll have to have a birth certificate from the U.S.”

Though she was able to renew her tag, she left wondering what will happen next year. How do you prove your citizenship when officials don’t believe your birth certificate is from the United States?

“It’s like they’ve passed the law but they haven’t taught people how to implement it and they don’t know what they’re doing,” Carmen said. “They’ve just created confusion. Now I’m afraid to go to any government office.”

Photo by Sarah P. Reynolds