- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

Tennessee yesterday suspended a program that issued driving certificates to illegal aliens, after recent federal investigations showed widespread abuse.

The decision comes as Maryland lawmakers are considering a similar program.

The shutdown in Tennessee followed a series of arrests in recent months that exposed scams such as shuttle services that brought illegals from other states to obtain driving certificates unlawfully and bribes paid to state license examiners who provided illegals with drivers’ licenses and certificates without testing.

“This program was a good idea in theory, but there have been problems with implementation,” said Tennessee Safety Commissioner Jerry Nicely, who announced that no more driving certificates will be issued to illegal aliens, pending a thorough re-examination of the program.

There were cases of illegals from places such as New Jersey and Georgia traveling to Tennessee and using false residency papers to get driving certificates, according to Julie Oaks, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Safety Department.

In early 2001, Tennessee began issuing full drivers licenses without requiring a Social Security number. More than 180,000 people ?? many of them immigrants ?? obtained licenses that way.

The driving certificate program for immigrants was started two years ago, and about 51,000 have been issued to date. It had two purposes: addressing homeland security concerns in the aftermath of September 11 and improving driving safety in Tennessee by making sure immigrants living there know traffic rules.

To obtain the certificates, applicants were required to provide two documents that showed they live in Tennessee, such as a utility bill or a lease. They also had to provide a Social Security number or a sworn affidavit if they did not have a Social Security number. In addition, they had to pass an eye examination, a driving rules test and a road test.

The issue has become a point of contention among metropolitan Washington leaders.

Maryland does not require legal presence for drivers license applicants and legislation in the General Assembly attempting to bar illegals from obtaining them has failed over the past two years.

But state lawmakers earlier this week debated adding a driving certificate amendment to a bill sponsored by Anne Arundel Republican Delegate Herb McMillan, which, in effect, would mirror the model Tennessee has suspended.

Virginia stopped issuing drivers licenses to illegal aliens after it was discovered that several September 11 hijackers obtained identification documents within the state.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Tennessee is one of 11 states that have not required proof of legal residency to obtain driving documents. It did not identify the others.

But a report last fall in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel identified nine states that it said issued drivers licenses without proof of a legal U.S. presence. Including Maryland, they were Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

Keyonna Summers contributed to this story.

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