Back in 2004, federal agents closed down the Hudson County Office of Vital Statistics after some workers there were caught allegedly selling false identification. For several years, the office was not allowed to issue birth certificates or passports.
In 2005, after intervention by then-Rep. Robert Menendez, the county office was allowed to resume issuing passports, but not birth certificates.
For over a decade, residents in Hudson County have had to go to Trenton to get a copy of a birth certificate except in municipalities with their own office of vital statistics.
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight says the time has come for the U.S. State Department to lift its restriction on the county and allow people to get birth certificates locally.
“Everyone doesn’t have a car or someone to drive them to Trenton,” McKnight said. “This can prove especially difficult for our senior residents as well as those returning to the community after being incarcerated.”
In two raids conducted in 2004, federal agents seized records that were dated back to 1902 in an attempt to uncover a counterfeit birth certificate scheme. Eventually, one of the employees was charged and convicted. But as a result, the county was prohibited from issuing passports or birth certificates, with state officials saying that they could not rely on the information in applications processed in Hudson County.
A year earlier, the state attorney general’s office indicted 16 people, many residents of Hudson and Passaic counties, in connection with supplying false information in order to obtain valid U.S. passports. They were accused of using fictitious names or presenting false documents including birth certificates, Social Security cards, New Jersey Motor Vehicle documents, and other government paperwork.
Most of those involved were residents of Jersey City, Union City, and other parts of the state, who later pleaded guilty and were either deported or sentenced to jail.
The process starts locally
Currently birth certificates can only be obtained through Trenton or through municipal offices such as Bayonne, Kearny, North Bergen, Weehawken, and Hoboken, which have these vital statistics services.
The process to obtain a birth certificate through the state can take months if done by mail, often posing problems for people who need these things for divorce settlements, the settling of estates and other such issues.
“I understand what happened in the past in regard to the issuing of birth certificates here in Jersey City but it’s time to start fresh,” McKnight said. “On Thursday, April 7, 2016, I introduced bill A3625. This bill requires the Department of Health to authorize the Hudson County Office of Vital Statistics in Jersey City to issue certified copies of birth certificates. This bill means so much to Jersey City residents and I welcome your feedback and support.”
The U.S. State Department relies on thousands of offices nationwide that serve as processing centers for applications, places where identification of the people applying is verified. These include public libraries, state and county offices, and post offices.
The closing of the Hudson County office was at the time seen as significant, although it was not related to terrorism.
In an agreement to allow the county to again issue passports, federal and state put barriers in place to prevent possible sale of false identities. One of these was to prohibit the issuing of birth certificates – a key document needed to obtain a passport as well as other identification.
Anti-terrorism legislation that went into effect just after the terrorists attacks Sept. 11, 2001 set strict new rules of identification. Birth certificates and passports are among the key documents needed in obtaining a driver’s license and other similar identification. A person seeking to obtain a driver’s license or its equivalent state-issued identification must provide proof of identity that includes things like library cards, credit card statements and such. But birth certificates and passports are considered the most valuable proofs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com