By David Cruz
If you’re born in Jersey City before 1965 and you need a copy of your birth certificate, be prepared for a journey.
“You’ve gotta take a bus to the [Journal] Square, PATH to Newark and then transportation from Newark to Trenton. $30!” notes Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. “Plus $20 for a copy, and if you want an additional one it’s $5, so you’re spending $50, $60 just for a piece of paper.”
Residents in the state’s second largest city have had to make this trek – or its six week mail-in equivalent – since 2005, after a scandal in the Hudson County Office of Vital Statistics caused the state department to stop honoring birth certificates from the office. Four people pleaded to or were found guilty of selling fake birth certificates to undocumented immigrants. Over the past 12 years the state department has eased the ban throughout the county, except in Jersey City.
“The other towns are already issuing their own birth certificates,” added McKnight. “It’s only Jersey City. Why, I have no idea, but it’s only Jersey City. Bayonne issues its own, Hoboken issues its own. Right now it’s just Jersey City.”
So, McKnight, a first term assemblywoman was able to get a bill passed allowing the city clerk to issue birth certificates. That was a heavy lift in itself, but Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill this week, calling it an empty gesture because the city did not get a sign off from the state department.
“The Legislature cannot override the existing policy of the U.S. Department of State,” said the governor in his veto statement, “and absent federal action, birth certificates issued out of Jersey City would remain invalid. Thus, if this bill became law, persons born in Jersey City would get nothing more than a useless piece of paper.”
“This bill had flaws in it but it’s a step in the right direction. There was no reason for him not to sign it. It would have created leverage for the next level in the federal government to clean that up as well. It’s inconvenient,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. “We took the first step, being proactive. The state government is supposed to take the next step and then we’d go speak to our federal representatives and we’d have this whole thing cleaned up here. It’s hit a roadblock because the governor – for some reason – decided he doesn’t want to be supportive.”
McKnight says she’s still hopeful, despite the 12 year journey. “We’ve suffered enough,” she said. “The residents of Jersey City have suffered enough. The bad people who did what they did back then are gone, so give us a chance so that we can make it right for our constituents.”
Meanwhile, the city clerk says his office might not be equipped to provide birth certificates to anyone who wasn’t born within the past few years. For older copies, they would need to rely on the county, where this whole mess began way back in the Bush administration.