- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is laying out the groundwork on how it will enforce a new law that requires applicants to show proof of legal residency in Virginia before obtaining a driver’s license.

The DMV has convened a 10-member panel, which has met twice to discuss ways to implement the law, which takes effect Jan. 1. The diverse panel includes elected officials, immigrant-rights advocates and transportation officials.

“This is going to be quite a task for us to implement, considering the time frame we have to do it and the amount of money we have to do it with,” said Philip D. Vasquez, deputy commissioner of the DMV.

Mr. Vasquez said the panel would consider allowing applicants to use birth certificates, passports or other legal documentation to prove their residency. But he said final determinations had not been made. The panel’s next all-day public meeting is scheduled for July 2 at the DMV headquarters in Richmond.

Mr. Vasquez also said his agency was under strict orders to make sure all applicants are treated equally. “We will ask Joe Smith for the same information we ask Juan Gonzalez, and we won’t ask Juan Gonzalez for anything we don’t ask Joe Smith for,” Mr. Vasquez said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, signed the legislation after making it clear he wanted the measure to be implemented fairly. The law will require all first-time applicants for driver’s licenses or Virginia identification card to show they are legally allowed to be in Virginia. The law also applies to those seeking to re-instate a license that had been revoked. It will not apply to those renewing a license.

Proponents pushed for the legislation in response to the September 11 attacks, which were carried out by several hijackers who used fake Virginia identification cards to board the passenger planes.

“This is one cog in the wheel,” said state Sen. James “Jay” O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, who co-sponsored the legislation. “Airport security will not do, and these licenses alone will not do it. They all fit together in the matrix of homeland security.”

The estimated cost of the program varies, with opponents claiming it will cost more money than was originally allocated in the budget.

In their final budget agreement, lawmakers approved $1.4 million, which would go toward the cost of training employees to screen the appropriate documents — whatever they are determined to be — for verification of legal status, as well as notifying the public about the policy changes.

Opponents had argued DMV is bureaucratic enough and that requiring the department to check for documentation will make it an arm of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.

If members of the public have suggestions or comments about the new policy, they can either e-mail DMV officials at presence@dmv.state.va.us, or write to them at P.O. Box 27412, Richmond, Va. 23269.

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