Politics & Government

Stricter rules deterring out-of-state license seekers

SEATTLE – Fewer out-of-state people who didn’t provide a Social Security number have sought to obtain a driver’s license in Washington, according to new figures by the Department of Licensing.

Friday’s new data suggest stricter rules implemented this past year are deterring illegal immigrants from other states from getting licenses in Washington.

Washington state is one of two states that do not require a Social Security number – essentially a proof of legal residency in the country – when obtaining a license. Critics say that has made Washington a magnet for identification fraud.

The department’s data show that in the first half of this year, 5,346 people didn’t provide a Social Security number when obtaining a license. In all of 2010, more than 23,000 did not.

When accounting for all out-of-state license applicants, 16 percent didn’t provide a Social Security number in 2010. That has dropped to 8 percent through June of this year.

“We’re seeing an overall decrease in the number of individuals that are receiving driver’s licenses that indicated they don’t have a Social Security number or don’t provide one. Clearly that could include folks who are in the country illegally. Under state law we cannot determine someone’s U.S. citizenship status,” said Tony Sermonti, DOL spokesman.

Under new rules, the department is asking for proof of residency in the state, such as a bank statement or vehicle title. Cable or cellphone bills, which can be quickly canceled, are no longer accepted. Washington still accepts identification from other countries among the documents it sees valid in lieu of a Social Security number.

Sermonti also said the state is pursuing stricter penalties against people who try to defraud the system.

New Mexico is the other state that does not ask for a Social Security number. Utah’s lawmakers have created a two-tier system where illegal immigrants can drive but can’t use the license as a form of identification.

This past session, a measure that would have required proof of legal residency was considered by lawmakers in Olympia, almost getting a vote in the Senate, the furthest it has gone in recent years.

Not having a Social Security number does not necessarily mean the person is not legally in the country. People on work visas, for example, don’t have the number, Sermonti said.

In June, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that calls for stricter immigration rules, listed Washington as a top spot for illegal immigrants, citing the availability of driver’s licenses.

“On general principle, people who are not legally present shouldn’t be eligible to receive these important documents. The state should not be facilitating the violations of federal law, no matter what the Legislature thinks of the law,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for FAIR.