The Department of Vital Records
May 24, 2012
|The Dept of Vital Records. USA
As the daughter of a natural born irish citizen, I am entitled to apply for an EU passport as an Irish citizen born abroad. Apparently this has always been the case but came to light a few years back when my cousin Fiona visited the united states and stayed with us for six months. She was on the tail end of a travel year, having visited faraway places like Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, the west coast, and then Pittsburgh. During the last few months, she decided to stay in the USA, work a little, and then head back to her real life in London. Fiona, and her sibs, were born in the US and lived here for the first few years until her mum and dad decided to return to London to raise the fam. So Fiona is a US citizen. During her brief stay she spent an enormous amount of time at the social security office, trying to track down her social security number so that she could get a job. This process went on for months, a circular process really, and having been born in San Francisco, a bi coastal circular process. In the end, she applied for a new number which turned out to be easier than finding the original one.
This created a hyper aware sense of paperwork in the family and started the discussion of the Irish passport. To apply for an Irish passport you have to gather up a lot of paperwork to trace, to prove, your connection to the country. This is no small feat but little did I know that the papers themselves were only the beginning.
So we started talking about it in 2008 but it took me until 2010 to get started. I asked Cassie, my niece, who was attending Trinity College in Dublin to stop by a post office and send me over a passport application. She promptly sent an envelope containing 2 blank green application forms and a set of directions about 6 pages long. Key to these directions was the list of documents necessary to gather. Some are more obscure than others but who knew that my own birth certificate would be the delay factor for so long.
The problem was that the form required the long form of the birth certificate, showing both parents names. Now you might question, in matters of certifying birth why there would be a need for a both a short and a long version of the certificate. I too question this. And, as it turned out, I only had the short form, I needed the long form.
The long form can be acquired in three ways: 1) you can go online and request one for 10dollars, 2) your can go to the office of vital records and drop off a form with your 10dollars and then will mail it to you or 3) you can go the office of vital records and drop off a form with your ten dollars and wait in the nice wooden chair for a few minutes and they will hand it to you.
For two years I did none of these. The office of vital records happens to be around the corner from my office building but still I did nothing. Periodically I thought about it, even went so far as to mention to my sister that we ought to take care of the birth certificate, the last missing document in the packet that was all ready to be sent to Ireland to acquire the much coveted Irish Passport.
By 2012, Fiona had been back home working, dating Richard for ever, and having arrived at the end of her third decade, decided to get married in Ireland. This caused a flurry of activities including the booking of airline tickets, hotels, trains, and rental cars and the brilliant idea that we could get the Irish passport while we are in Ireland! So novel, so clever, rather than mail the papers over, we could stop by the office and meet the passport people in person, and get new Irish passports issued for my sister and I. A terrific idea!
But the American birth certificate task waited until the week before departure. And by complete coincidence, the US government decided to upgrade the computer system used to generate the birth certificates. I have no idea why they did this as the system they had previously seemed to be working fine for many many years.
So on the Monday before our Friday flight, we walked down around the corner to the office of vital records. After jamming in the elevator to the 3rd floor with a lot of other birth certificate seekers, you go through security – not metal detectors mind your, full blown take off your jewelry and watch airport like security, walk down the hall to a room full of people waiting for their papers. We get in line. The walls are covered, covered, with signs indicating that they are getting a new computer system and therefore birth certificates now take a week. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I have no idea how long this system conversion problem had been going on but the people in the room were really disappointed to say the least. People need the BC for a lot of different reasons, as I learned during the long hour I spent in that line. There are two sets of people in the room, the appliers, people dropping off their forms and ten dollars to the man behind the glass who they also beg for various things like a receipt to show they really tried to get the document, the document itself because they need it for reason X Y Z, or in my case, the document by Friday, when I leave for Ireland. The other group of people are the receivers, they are the people who have returned ONE WEEK LATER to pick up their birth certificates. Yes you read that correctly, the department of vital records is running one week behind on producing the documents that have a total of 6 bits of info on them – 4 bits if you get the short form. In the time I worked my way through the appliers line to drop my 10 dollars and my form, not a single person left with their certificate.
I begged the man behind the glass that I could not wait a week, I could only wait 2 days due to my travel to Ireland and the Irish passport. The story was out of place in a room where people were trying to figure out which of their names was on the form, the elderly worried about parking meters and the dreadful idea of coming back to the office to pick up the form, and people with immediate needs had driven to the downtown office thinking it would be faster, only to find that the new castle office is actually faster, and they have free parking.
The man behind the glass was helpful to me. After asking to see confirmation of my departure which I could only show via my blackberry, and including him literally taking the BB to show his supervisor and her supervisor too, they agreed I could come back on Thursday at 1pm to pick up the papers. I looked around the room at the receivers, sitting on the wooden chairs, waiting, and decided I better come back at 9am on Thursday, just to be sure.
For two days I am thinking about all the people who are need their birth certificates and have to wait. What could possibly have gone wrong with their new computer system implementation that could be so drastic to cause such delays? I asked the man at the window, in between whispering through the glass “I need this by Thursday…. This Thursday”, what happened but he doesn’t know. He says they made things very complex now and it is hard to pull the certificates. They liked the old system, this one is hard to use. I looked around the office at the desks behind the glass, they have regular pc’s on them. How could a new system possibly have caused this?
A young man who stood in front of me when I was in the line with the appliers, asked for a letter explaining why he could not get his certificate, and to accommodate him, the man behind the glass took a copy of the paper explaining the outage, the same one hanging around the room explaining the system problem, stamped OFFICE on it in red, and slid it back under the glass to the young man. He shook his head and said it would not be accepted, so the man behind the glass pulled the paper back in, stapled the receipt for the ten dollar payment to it, and slid it back to him. The young man walked away shaking his head. It truly is an unbelievable experience.
Two things occurred to me: one it is hard to believe that the department of vital records is on their second computer system and at the hospital we are still implementing our first. Second, what would it take for this to be fixed? I want to call the supervisor and ask but I am afraid to get pulled into the nightmare of fixing it.