November 6, 2010 in City

Licensing rules tightened

Drivers without Social Security numbers must now provide proof of legal residency
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

The Department of Licensing branch on North Lidgerwood Street assists those seeking driver’s licenses or identification, among other services.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Fast facts

Year-to-date, 4,810 individuals from outside the United States have applied for a Washington driver’s license.

Last year, the state granted licenses to 5,992 people from outside the U.S.

Sources: Department of Licensing, Associated Press

Washington is cracking down on fraudulent driver’s licenses by requiring proof of legal state residency if applicants don’t have valid Social Security numbers.

The new measures by the state Department of Licensing come after an Associated Press report earlier this year found the three states that don’t require proof of citizenship or legal residency – Washington, New Mexico and Utah – have seen an increase in immigrants seeking driver’s licenses.

“Here in Washington, we do require you prove who you are,” said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield, adding that a birth certificate or picture ID will do.

The state also requires that those applying for licenses be residents of the state and do not intend to take the licenses to use in another state.

“What we can’t do is make people prove they are in our country legally,” Benfield said.

In the past few months, after crackdowns on illegal immigration in Arizona and other states, Washington has seen a sharp increase in the number of people applying for a driver’s license without a Social Security number.

Washington does not require a person to have a Social Security number in order to obtain a driver’s license, but it does require such applicants to declare on a form that they have never been issued a Social Security number.

Recently, the Department of Licensing began to notice that while the use of declaration forms has gone up, the number of people moving to Washington from other states has remained relatively flat, Benfield said.

A look at the data in September revealed that among the 752 people from North Carolina applying for Washington driver’s licenses, 495 of them – 66 percent – were using the Social Security declaration form. That compares with 2.3 percent of applicants from California using the declaration form, Benfield said.

It is probably no coincidence that in July, North Carolina became one of a growing number of states requiring a valid Social Security number to receive a driver’s license.

“It’s not to say anybody using the form is committing fraud,” Benfield said, “but people who are trying to commit fraud do use that form.”

So beginning Monday, Washington will require driver’s license applicants using the Social Security declaration form to have proof of residency such as a utility bill or rental receipt.

Benfield said the department will not accept cell phone or cable TV agreements, which can be easily secured then dropped.

“We don’t think this will affect a tremendous number of people,” he said.

In 2007, the state began requiring proof of residency of every applicant but dropped the requirement this year because “it was tripping up” people who were legitimately applying for licenses and wasn’t doing much to stop fraud, Benfield said.

Also, Department of Licensing personnel behind the counter at licensing offices will no longer be responsible for verifying proof of residency. They will scan the applicant’s documentation into the computer system to be verified by a technician behind the scenes.

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