Voting Puerto Rican

    There was the expected sense of urgency at a press conference last week on how Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law could adversely affect Puerto Ricans.

    With less than four months before the November election, groups across the city are doing all they can to get the word out.

    No photo ID means no vote. (For more, read stories by Elisabeth Perez-Luna and Emma Jacobs.)

    That change can touch the elderly, the poor and potentially, it turns out, Puerto Ricans who make up half of Pennsylvania’s Latinos.

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    In 2010, Puerto Rico invalidated the birth certificates of all people born on the island before July 1, 2010, to deal with increasing identity theft. 

    As I wrote at the time, it was the government’s answer to a legitimate problem. Except putting the burden on citizens seemed like overkill. And it penalized law-abiding citizens because of their ethnicity. (To read that column, go here.)

    Native born Puerto Ricans can get a new, more secure birth certificate. Except, as my friends and relatives have experienced, the office responsible for issuing them isn’t exactly the picture of efficiency.

    Even Ivonne Gutierrez Bucher, a panelist at the press conference and the executive director of the state AARP, said getting a new birth certificate from PR has been a two-year ordeal.

    Annoying, but she’ll still be able to vote. Gutierrez Bucher has a driver’s license. Many Puerto Ricans who don’t are now going to find themselves in a position of needing that new birth certificate to get a valid photo ID. 

    Which brings me back to the press conference. Beyond the determination to educate people about what’s needed to vote in November, I detected feelings of exasperation, disappointment, and at times, even a little anger.

    And not just my own.

    Here’s the deal: Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Puerto Ricans have fought and died in every war since World War I.

    Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

    And yet misconceptions and ignorance persist about their status. And this new wrinkle with the state’s voter ID law isn’t going to help matters.

    At the press conference, Miguel Concepcion, from the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, said Puerto Ricans continue to fight battles they should have already won.

    That includes having to deal with people who still don’t get, or don’t want to get, that Puerto Ricans are not immigrants, that they don’t need a green card and that they are — and this bears repeating — U.S. citizens, and have been since 1917.

    Jennifer Clarke, of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, one of four organizations challenging the new voter ID law, said when she told Puerto Rican friends about how the changes could affect them, they seemed dispirited. I could almost see them giving up, she said.

    She doesn’t want that to happen. What she wants, she added, is to do whatever she can to make sure every Puerto Rican in Pennsylvania votes.

    I’m with her. We can get mad. We can get fed up with laws and bureaucracy that make many feel like second-class citizens. We can get sick and tired of the ignorance — I know I do.

    Or we can finally exercise our enormous, and as of yet, unrealized power and do whatever is necessary to vote. Including getting that new birth certificate. Now. Here’s how.

    Because nothing forces people to educate themselves more than a strong voting bloc.

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