- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

El Salvadoran immigrants Hernan and Doribel Diaz know firsthand how difficult it is to get a driver’s license or an identification card in Virginia these days.

They recently had to make five trips to their local DMV branch in Alexandria to get an ID card for Mrs. Diaz. The first four times they were turned away because they didn’t bring the proper documents to prove they are in the United States legally.

“It was so very difficult,” Mr. Diaz said yesterday when his wife got her ID card on her fifth try. “It’s been three hours waiting in a very long line, but we finally got it, thank God.”

Mr. Diaz and his wife are among dozens of people who have been turned away by DMV since last Thursday when a law took effect requiring people to show one of several government-issued documents proving they are either U.S. citizens or legal residents.

The requirement is an attempt to close the loopholes that allowed some of the September 11 hijackers to get licenses and IDs in Virginia.

Though the DMV has been getting the word out about the new law since last fall, many people are being turned away each day because they don’t bring with them the paperwork that’s required to prove their legal standing.

Andrew Harrington, who moved to Virginia from Iowa, couldn’t get a new license yesterday because he didn’t bring his birth certificate.

“It’s a little annoying,” he said after being turned away by a DMV clerk. “I understand they are doing it for security reasons, but it’s still a little annoying.”

Under the law, drivers must show a birth certificate, passport, unexpired U.S. military ID cards, resident alien cards and a host of other naturalization and immigration papers to prove legal standing. The law applies only to new applicants and those who hold expired, suspended or revoked licenses — not those seeking to renew valid licenses.

The DMV hired 21 new customer service workers in anticipation of the law. DMV branch managers and document specialists have been trained to recognize the difference between fake and genuine documents.

DMV officials said yesterday operations have been going well since the law took effect.

“We are very pleased,” said Pamela M. Goheen, a DMV spokeswoman. “The first days of implementation went very smoothly.”

Elizabeth Crawley, a customer service generalist who tells applicants which documents they need to prove legal presence, said many people who have come to the Alexandria branch have been prepared.

“A lot of people come in with the documents already in hand and just hand them to you,” Ms. Crawley said.

The typical lines at the DMV haven’t gotten any shorter, however. Yesterday a line snaked out the door of the Alexandria branch on Mill Road when it opened its doors at 8 a.m. Many in line complained but said they expected the two-hour wait.

Some said they were glad the state is taking new precautions, while others said it’s one more hurdle to face.

Mr. Diaz said things have not been easy for his family and other immigrants living in Virginia since September 11, 2001.

Before the new law, Mr. Diaz was able to get an ID card that was valid for five years. Now, Mrs. Diaz’s ID is only valid for 11 months, and when it expires, the couple will have to come back to the DMV to get a new one.

“After 9/11, everything changed for all of us immigrants. We have so many troubles and feel so many restrictions,” he said. “This is a very difficult time.”

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