Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pushing paper fail

Biometric United States passport issued in 2007

Image via Wikipedia

I just wrapped up a clerical nightmare that took over four months to sort out. Here’s some background information:

  1. People born in the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (like myself and my wife) are born United States citizens. We are required to have a Social Security number, we pay taxes, etc.
  2. Travel between Puerto Rico and any other US state of possession is no different than travel between say, Virginia and Maryland. The only real issues are things like US Department of Agriculture restrictions on things that can be brought into the Continental US like certain agricultural products.
  3. Many states have implemented citizenship checks at the time of issuing IDs and driver licenses. This is no different than the US requiring proof of citizenship before issuing a passport.

Now here comes the fun part:

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was pressured into voiding any birth certificates issued before October of this year. If you hold a birth certificate issued anywhere in Puerto Rico with the old style used before October 2010, then the Commonwealth can’t certify that it is legitimate because of its obsolete watermarking, seals, etc. This means for example that the People’s Republic of Virginia would not take my pristine, kept in the safe, birth certificate that they issued me back in the 1990s in order to renew my driver’s license. At least after September 30, 2010.

This of course flared my paranoia, so as soon as I heard about this back in May I immediately placed an order for two copies of my birth certificate, two copies of Ivette’s.

Then the wait started.

By August I was starting to freak out. And still, no birth certificates. I asked around and heard that the whole thing had turned into a huge mess, seems everyone *cough* asked for certificates at the same time, instead of *cough* only the people that *cough* really needed one. I went back to pr.gov and checked on the status of my two orders: both were hung because they were missing proof of ID.

I resubmitted the IDs, then noticed that the Commonwealth had added expedited service through a company called VitalCheck. Since by then I was freaking out, I ordered two more certificates for myself, two for Ivette at a very horrible markup.

Then more waiting. And no certificates from either source.

By late August I said to hell with it. My driver’s license would need to be renewed in early 2011, so I would need my proof of citizenship before Ivette needs hers. And I still had a 100% legitimate birth certificate in my hands, which was good until at least September 30. I ran to the post office and requested a US passport, something I have had procrastinated for over a decade.

Now it becomes infuriating: it took me 5 minutes or so to fill my application online, another minute to print it at home and maybe half an hour waiting in line to submit the application and take my two pictures. The clerk was extremely understanding, and I was not the only one rushing to get a passport done before the certificates expired. And less than one fucking month after I filed for it, I had both the passport and passport card.

And still, no birth certificates. It is absolutely unbelievable that it is easier to get a US passport done, without paying one cent for expedited service, than it is to get copies of birth certificates from Puerto Rico. Un-fucking-believable.

Since I had my passport done, I stopped worrying about it. Virginia will take a US passport as proof of citizenship, but I was still really annoyed at all of the money I wasted ordering certificates I never received. I was *this* close to calling my credit card company and contesting the four orders (two original certificate orders, two VitalCheck orders) when the VitalCheck orders arrived in the mail today. It took VitalCheck close to two months to generate four sheets of paper on pretty paper, unique serial numbers and watermarks.

And I am still waiting for my original two orders from back in frickin June!

Unbelievable in this day and age that it would take a US possession over five fucking months to print out four sheets of paper. And worse, I knew the folio addresses (the actual physical locations of the records) for both Ivette and myself, so it is not like they would need to research the location of our original birth records. with these folio addresses they could look up either of us on the spot. But no, there is no choice to request it by folio number, because that would be too easy.


Here’s some more food for thought:

Ivette’s friend asked her sister to go to the records office in Puerto Rico to request hers in person. The sister has three kids, since she needed fresh copies for her three kids she thought she could simply walk in and order these plus one for her sister. She had to go to the records office at 5:00 AM and was the 60th person in line. The records officer did not accept the request letter because the wording was wrong, then they told her she could only request two certificates in one transaction, which meant she would need to wait until 5:00 AM the next day to stand in line just to request the certificate for kid #3.

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