Driver's license will prove legal status
BY LEIGH BELL World Staff Writer
Sunday, June 03, 2007
A driver's license is enough to prove you're not an illegal immigrant after Nov. 1 when the state's sweeping immigration-reform law goes into effect and law enforcement checks legal status of anyone arrested for felonies and drunk driving, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
A driver's license will also suffice if Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor agrees with the City Council's recommendation that police officers immediately begin immigration-status checks on all arrested for felonies and misdemeanors.
Although illegal immigrants could possibly obtain a license with false documents, "We can only do the best we can do," said Councilor John Eagleton, who spearheaded the recommendation.
"If an illegal is able to get through, so be it. I can't change what the Legislature does as far as issuing driver's licenses."
The council's resolution goes one step further than the state law, House Bill 1804.
Up to this point, both have been ambiguous as to how a U.S. citizen or lawful resident could prove that fact.
U.S. citizens aren't required to carry proof that they are. And many don't walk around with evidence of citizenship, like a birth certificate, Social Security card or passport.
The announcement that a driver's license is the only requirement quells a worried public and clears up confusion, even for the author of HB 1804, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.
The law, which aims to weed illegal immigrants out of Oklahoma, says that after Nov. 1 all legal identification -- including driver's licenses -- will only be issued to those lawfully in the United States.
Terrill initially thought additional identification beyond a driver's license -- issued before Nov. 1 -- would be needed to prove legal status.
That's because he didn't think the license identification requirements were stringent enough to prove legal presence.
But they are, said Karen Gentry, director of driver's license testing with the Department of Public Safety.
At least to the best way possible. No system can possibly detect all attempts at document falsification or misrepresentation -- the only ways an illegal immigrant can get a driver's license in the state of Oklahoma.
That's after a law went into effect in July 2003 banning illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses and requiring foreigners applying to present documentation of legal presence.
Regular Oklahoma driver's licenses expire after four years. So, starting July 1, all licenses will have been issued only to those who could prove legal status.
Little will change in how the Department of Public Safety issues licenses, but HB 1804 requires a significant change in the license itself.
Driver's licenses issued after Nov. 1 to anyone who isn't a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident will be obviously "stamped" as temporary, Gentry said.
Sex offenders are the only other group of people issued temporary licenses, but those will not have the temporary "stamp," Gentry said.
"It is something that will help law enforcement when they stop people," she said. "I would think that would be an indicator to whomever is looking at that license. If they had reason, they might want to check the immigrant status."
After Nov. 1, an Oklahoma driver's license will be sufficient proof of legal status to allow other legal identification to be issued, Terrill said.
"As long as they have a valid driver license in their possession, they can present that as proof they are in the country legally," he said.
Driver's license examiners in this state attend a formal academy that includes training to detect falsified documents and identity fraud, Gentry said.
She expressed confidence in her staff and their ability to prevent those unlawfully in the United States from getting a driver license.
"A driver's license examiner is the frontline of homeland security," Gentry said. "They are establishing a person's identity. A license can go anywhere in Oklahoma, around the country and outside the United States."
However, it's not impossible for an illegal immigrant to obtain a driver's license. Several attempts are made every day across the state, said Arber Wheaton, administrative officer with the Department of Public Safety.
Wheaton works in the department's document verification division, which was established to finger fraud in driver's license applications.
The number of fraudulent documents found and reported has gone up. There were 2,071 in 2005. Last year, there were 3,006, and this year so far there are 610, Wheaton said.
The majority are from illegal immigrants trying to get a license with documents that are false or belong to someone else.
Leigh Bell 581-8465
City Councilman John Eagleton shows his driver’s license, which would be enough to prove a person’s immigration status under a
new state law that goes into effect Nov. 1 or if the city follows a council recommendation for police to check the legal status of those arrested for felonies and misdemeanors. Eagleton spearheaded efforts to expand the council’s recommendation to include misdemeanors.