Legal Aid Helps Puerto Rican Community

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November 2010 — In December 2009, the Puerto Rican government made a surprising announcement: all birth certificates issued in the U.S. territory would become null and void on July 1, 2010. Individuals born in Puerto Rico any time before that date would have to file for a new birth certificate. The policy was intended to curb alleged fraud with existing birth certificates. It also presented a challenge for Northeast Ohio’s large Puerto Rican population, who are U.S. citizens by birth. Legal Aid immediately recognized the impact this situation would have on Puerto Ricans in Northeast Ohio – especially those who are low income. Says staff attorney Megan Sprecher, “We wanted to make sure low-income Puerto Ricans were informed about the change and the application process in order to prevent future problems. Valid birth certificates are often required for important life activities like school enrollment and obtaining government-issued ID.” Legal Aid collaborated with partner agencies and distributed literature about the change. Legal Aid representatives targeted Spanish-language media outlets and held clinics on Cleveland’s West Side and Lorain County to help individuals fill out birth certificate applications. Legal Aid established a toll-free hotline to assist anyone with questions. When the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles refused to recognize Puerto Rican birth certificates for those seeking state I.D. cards, Ms. Sprecher and Baker Hostetler attorney José C. Feliciano published an op-ed in The Plain Dealer: “Valid ID is the gateway to important activities like working, driving to a job, opening a bank account and taking the GED exam. For Puerto Ricans, valid ID is also necessary in order to get a new birth certificate issued by Puerto Rico. As of this printing, the Puerto Rican government had extended its deadline through October, giving many more time to get a revised birth certificate.

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