- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has developed a plan that will make it more difficult for motorists to get driver’s licenses in Virginia next month if they don’t have the proper documentation, top DMV officials said yesterday.

Motorists now will be required to show one of several government-issued documents proving they are either U.S. citizens or are here legally, officials told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

The requirement stems from a law passed by the General Assembly last spring that will attempt to close the loopholes that allowed some of the September 11 hijackers to get licenses and identification. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

“Whether your name is Martinez or Johnson, the law applies to everyone,” DMV Commissioner D.B. Smit said.

Documents to prove legal presence will include official birth certificates, resident alien cards and a host of other naturalization and immigration papers. Other documents that may be shown to DMV employees include unexpired U.S. military ID cards, an employment authorization card, a foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551,” a refugee-travel document and a form issued to parolees.

The list won’t include Mexican matricula consular cards, distributed by the Mexican government and created to identify Mexican citizens in need of consular assistance.

Before the law was changed in Virginia, proof of legal residency was not required. In some cases, a motorist seeking a driver’s license or another form of identification was allowed to show only an affidavit signed by a friend attesting to their identity.

The law applies only to new applicants and those who have expired, suspended or revoked licenses, not those seeking to renew valid licenses.

Yesterday, DMV officials told The Times that all 1,000 DMV employees had been trained for the new requirements. They worry, however, that customer service staff may suffer as a result of the changes.

“We’ll temper that customer service with a real concern for security,” Mr. Smit said. “We want to give good customer service, but this customer must prove [he or she is] in this country legally. It’s a very tough job.”

Mr. Smit, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Warner six months ago, was chairman of the 10-member panel that determined how the law would be implemented. The panel also included elected officials, immigrant-rights advocates and other state transportation officials.

Mr. Smit said the DMV is transcending an era in which customer service was at a premium and the agency was known for “get ‘em in, get ‘em out” quick and friendly service.

If a customer doesn’t meet all the requirements, Mr. Smit said, “we’ve instructed [employees] to be polite, tell them ‘no,’ tell them why and tell them what they need to do.”

The state granted DMV $2 million for a public relations campaign that explains the new law and for a two-day training program for DMV employees at the agency’s 73 service centers statewide. Part of this money went toward the hiring of 21 new customer service workers.

During the training session, employees were taught how to recognize the acceptable documents that prove legal presence.

DMV employees, however, won’t become de facto immigration police, Mr. Smit said.

“We’re not trying to be immigration officials; we just want to issue driver’s licenses,” Mr. Smit said. Still, he said, “we will investigate if we get false documents.”

The DMV has hired four document specialists who will help screen for fraudulent papers. Two of the specialists will be based in Northern Virginia, and the others will be stationed in Roanoke and the Hampton Roads area. DMV branch managers also are being trained to recognize the difference between fraudulent and genuine documents.

If customer service representatives are given a fraudulent document as proof of legal presence, they are ordered to make a copy of the document and reject the customer’s request for a driver’s license. DMV then will hand over the copy of the fraudulent document to federal government officials for investigation.

Mr. Smit said some branches in Northern Virginia will have security to deal with any major problems. DMV managers statewide are encouraged to contact local police to make sure officers can respond quickly if problems arise. The DMV tightened security in all of its branches after federal officials determined that some of the September 11 terrorists obtained driver’s licenses in Virginia.

Mr. Smit said he wants to protect the integrity of the driver’s license.

“Whether we like it or not, a driver’s license from any state is an entry card to any airport and any state,” Mr. Smit said. A fraudulent license can sell for as much as $1,500, he said.

In July, federal authorities arrested two clerks at the Tysons Corner DMV branch and four associates in a suspected $1 million scheme to produce and sell authentic Virginia driver’s licenses to unqualified applicants during the past five years.

The DMV has been making sure that the requirements of the new law are widely known. DMV employees are being asked to inform their church, volunteer or parent groups of the changes, Mr. Smit said.

DMV branches will operate under the new law beginning Jan. 3. The branches are closed Jan. 2.

Anyone seeking a full list of the accepted documents is asked to call the DMV at 866/DMV-LINE or visit www.dmvNOW.com.

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