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Posted at 10:34 AM ET, 11/ 9/2010

Legal immigrants face driver's license woes

By Peter Galuszka

Colombian citizen Ledy Serrano was surprised to get a letter from Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles stating that there was something wrong with her driver's license. The mother of three had had one for about a decade, had committed no crimes, had a clean driving record and was in Chesterfield County, where she lives and works, legally.

The problem was that Serrano had used a federal work permit as proof that she was in the United States legally when she got her Virginia driver's license. In September, following the death of a nun in a Prince William County car crash that involved an illegal alien from Bolivia, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced that federal work permits would no longer suffice as proof of legal residence.

Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano had used such a permit to get a state driver's license. His case aroused intense sentiment against illegal immigrants in the Old Dominion. The conservative McDonnell, perhaps seeing a pre-election opportunity, toughened the requirements for getting a driver's license.

Doing so might play well with voters, but it is creating a world of hurt on Serrano. She needs a license to get to her two jobs and ferry her children around. She claimed political asylum when she entered the United States and says she might be killed if she were ever required to return to Colombia.

The driver's license conundrum is a big problem with immigrants, legal or not. In 2002, 16 states issued licenses without a Social Security number or other "proof of legal residence." Today, with the fervor against illegals growing, only Washington and New Mexico still do. Toughening policies even more, some states such as Virginia no longer accept federal work permits as proof of legal presence, even though the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles policies do not specifically say so, at least not yet.

To be sure, illegal immigrant drivers can be a problem. Last year, some 205 illegal immigrants were charged with driving without licenses in Prince William County -- about 10 percent of all people arrested on the charge there. Many are remanded to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement service for possible deportation.

But that's cold comfort for legal immigrants such as Serrano who now have to scramble to find other ways to prove legal presence to satisfy DMV officials. One wonders how well McDonnell thought through his edict.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | November 9, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Prince William County, Va. Politics, Virginia, crime, economy, immigration, police, race, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

"Although he was facing deportation proceedings, Mr. Martinelly-Montano was able to obtain a federal work permit card to establish legal residence and apply for a Virginia ID card. "
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Umm, Peter Galuszka can you POSSIBLY figure out why these are no longer accepted. Or, is your IQ<40?

Posted by: illogicbuster | November 9, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Gov. McDonnell thought it through just fine, Mr. Galuska. If Serrano is here legally, she won't any problem proving it and getting her drivers license properly. I am impressed the VA DMV was able to pull these records up and get after these folks right away and a good thing, too.

Ask yourself this: if YOU got such a letter would it take more than five minutes to prove your right to get a drivers licenses? I didn't think so.

Posted by: dcmowbray1 | November 9, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

If everything is exactly true as represented in this blog -- it is stated that Ms Serrano is a legal immigrant, then she has a an I-551 form (green card) which Federal Law requires her to carry on her person (although many immigrants ignore that requirement). So if she is truly a "law abiding immigrant" she just needs to go down to the DMV and open her purse.

This whole blog is a gross exaggeration of a minor inconvenience: Typical WaPo. The headline should accurately read: "Legal immigrants face driver's license inconvenience." The term "woe" is totally inappropriate. Unless, of course, Mr. Galuszka has misrepresented Ms Serrano's true legal status.

Posted by: kevin9 | November 9, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

The woman is a model citizen who has had a drivers license for a damn decade. This is probably a good change to make going forward but it seems petty and vindictive to do what they are doing to her. I am a first generation american and I have been noticing a lot of demagogy around ethnic/ racial issues coming from the GOP. If the GOP keeps this up I'll be switching my party affiliation from republican to independent.

Posted by: blk-ml | November 9, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

The first line says it all "Colombian citizen." If she's been here for 10 years, why not become a US citizen?

Posted by: CoolHead2 | November 10, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

The first line says it all "Colombian citizen." If she's been here for 10 years, why not become a US citizen?

Posted by: CoolHead2 | November 10, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

The first line says it all "Colombian citizen." If she's been here for 10 years, why not become a US citizen?

Posted by: CoolHead2 | November 10, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

kevin9 @ November 9, 2010 4:56 PM wrote "If everything is exactly true as represented in this blog -- it is stated that Ms Serrano is a legal immigrant, then she has a an I-551 form (green card) which Federal Law requires her to carry on her person"

An excellent point. However (1) the 'Green Card' is not to be used for identification; (2) did McDonnell include it in the list of documents that ca be used?

Things are not as simple as some (many actually) think.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | November 10, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

AMviennaVA @ November 10, 2010 1:48 PM wrote:
"the 'Green Card' is not to be used for identification"

That is not the issue. Stay on topic. The issue is "proof that she was in the United States legally."

Proof of her immigration status is exactly the purpose of the "green card" and which is a more accurate indicator than a "federal work permit."

Presumably the green card is still listed as proof. The whole article was about Virginia no longer accepting the federal work permit. You are correct that the whole post is vague and lacking in detail and subject to multiple interpretations and false innuendo: the Washington Post's modus operandi on immigration coverage.

Posted by: kevin9 | November 11, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Kevin9, you are on point

Posted by: cogic4902 | November 15, 2010 4:14 AM | Report abuse

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