New Policy, New Problem
By Chaleampon Ritthichai

Immigrant groups gathered last month in front of the New York Department of Motors Vehicles to protest what they believe as another crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Following 31 other states, the department this year began crosschecking drivers’ social security numbers with information at the Social Security Administration. In March it sent out letters to 112,000 New Yorkers asking them to come in and explain why their social security numbers did not match. If they don't report within 15 days, they risk having their licenses suspended.

“We have found that somebody's Social Security number was used 57 times,” state Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond Martinez told the Associated Press.

It is common for many undocumented immigrants to use fake social security numbers to apply for driver’s licenses, according to New York Immigration Coalition.

Under a 1995 federal law, a Social Security number has been required to obtain a driver's license. But until a year ago, applicants in New York would have to provide only proof of birth and several forms of identification, such as utility bills. Now they must also bring proper documents to prove their immigration status.

On the trip to renew his license, Brian Kan, a Malaysian immigrant, was turned down because he couldn’t prove that he is here on working visa. “ I didn’t know that I have to bring all these documents."

Officials have said the recent implementation is an effort to clean up the database system, which is crucial to national security -- 15 of 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks had a total of 63 drivers licenses.

According to the Department of Motors Vehicles, an estimated 300,000 immigrants are likely to lose their licenses. While insisting that the new policy is not targeting immigrants, Martinez said the people who used fake immigration documents are subject to arrest and the agency will be notified.

Brother Joel Magallan, the executive director of Asociacion Tepeyac, a Mexican labor and human rights organization, has admitted that many members of his organization received driver license by using fake social security cards. “They have received the letter and nobody wants to go there and see what happened,” he told the New York Sun.

“I don’t know what to do,” said a Chinese immigrant van driver who also got his license with fake social security number. “I might have to change my job.”

While immigrants are figuring out what to do next, immigrant groups and supporters are fighting back.

Felix W. Ortiz, a State Assemblymember from the 51st district in Brooklyn and State Assemblymember Philio Ramos introduced a bill that would allow immigrants in New York to use a tax identification instead of social security number to apply for driver’s license. The Bill was referred to the transportation committee in January.

Meanwhile, many immigrant rights advocates now fear that some immigrants will go on driving without a license nor insurance.

“I need my van to bring food here every day,” a Honduran immigrant who has a mobile lunch station in Corona, Queens told Akhon Samoy, a Bengali newspaper. “ I have no choice but to drive. This is my living. I don’t care if I have an ID or not.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Back to The Citizen Page


This website is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by grants from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Independence Community Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York Times Foundation and visitors like you.