Tenn. halts immigrant driving certificates
LUCAS L. JOHNSON II
Feb. 24, 2006
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee stopped issuing driving certificates to illegal immigrants Friday after investigators learned out-of-state applicants were using fake papers and bribes to get cards.
The program could be scrapped altogether after a review by state investigators, Safety Commissioner Jerry Nicely said.
The program was meant to improve driving safety by ensuring immigrants knew traffic rules.
One major problem, Nicely said, was the variety of documents, such as utility bills or housing leases, that people could use to prove they lived in Tennessee. The department was flooded with certificate requests, and employees were overwhelmed trying to verify the paperwork, he said.
The wallet-size certificates were labeled "not valid for identification" in bold red letters, but federal prosecutors say banks accepted them as legal identification and they could be passed off as official ID at other places.
A dozen people pleaded guilty in recent months after two federal investigations found shuttles from as far away as New Jersey had brought South and Central American immigrants with fake residency papers to get certificates at state licensing centers in Knoxville.
In January, federal prosecutors filed charges that state license examiners in Murfreesboro accepted bribes to provide out-of-state illegal immigrants with driver's licenses and certificates. Two people were sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty, and others are awaiting trial.
The schemes could have resulted in hundreds of fraudulent certificates, officials said.
Tennessee is among 11 U.S. states that have not required proof of legal residence to obtain driving documents.
In early 2001, the state started issuing full driver's licenses without requiring a Social Security number, and more than 180,000 people obtained licenses. The driving certificates were created in 2004 to satisfy homeland security concerns; about 51,000 were issued. Utah has a similar program.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which had favored the full driver's licenses, was critical of the decision to suspend the certificates.
"The certificate program, while discriminatory to begin with, at least ensured that drivers were trained and had insurance," executive director Hedy Weinberg said.
IMHO, if you`re not a legal resident you should not have access to any government services, or priveliges such as driving.