Local News

Court: DMV Crackdown On Driver's Licenses Is Legal

Posted January 30, 2004 5:06 a.m. EST

— A Wake County judge ruled that the state Division of Motor Vehicles has the right to limit the types of identification the agency accepts when it issues licenses.

The Durham-based Latino Community Credit Union and Latino Community Development Center on Thursday sued state

Division of Motor Vehicles

Commissioner George Tatum in Wake County Superior Court, saying the state did not follow proper procedure in putting the new rules in place.

Judge Donald Stephens ruled Friday that the DMV has the authority to make administrative changes without going through a legislative policy change.

The DMV said the changes, set to take effect Monday, are designed to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who get licenses and to make tracking down bogus documents easier.

The Latino groups stated the DMV did not allow for public comment before announcing the changes late last month, in violation of rule-making procedures. They argued the growing Hispanic population will be harmed by the new rules.

"We are surprised and disappointed of the decision of the court," said John Herrera, chairman of Latino Community Credit Union.

Herrera said the result will be more people driving without licenses, threatening public safety.

"They will have to miss work or drive without a license or an expired license," he said.

"We need to drive to go to the job for work, so if we don't have a driver's license, we can't drive and that affects us," immigrant Jose Morales said.

On Thursday, as the suits were filed, Tatum defended the changes, made as part of what's called the "Operation Stop Fraud" program.

"We consulted with the attorney general's staff the entire way," he added. "They reviewed the laws, and basically we feel like we're on solid legal ground as far as the policies we're going to implement come Monday."

Under the new rules, license applicants will need two forms of identification such as valid licenses from other states or Canada, Social Security cards, valid immigration papers and state vehicle registration or title certificates. People getting a license will also need to show proof they live in North Carolina.

Unacceptable forms of ID will include expired licenses, individual tax identification numbers and licenses and other identification cards issued by the Mexican government -- including the popular matricula consular, an identity card issued by the government through its consulates.

Tatum said the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security support the changes. He said state officials understand the difficulty involved in the changes.

"I think that with what we're trying to do, we realized there was going to be some short-term pain," Tatum said. "But the long-term gain for North Carolina citizens for protecting their identities will be well worth it."

The Latino advocacy groups that brought the lawsuit said they will continue trying to block the rules. They may do that through court action or they may try to persuade the state to reverse itself through diplomacy.