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Scott Gardner of Mount Holly, N.C., was on vacation and heading to the coast with his family when his station wagon was struck by a truck driven by Ramiro Gallegos, an illegal alien charged three times previously with drunk driving.
Gardner family’s station wagon
Gardner, the father of two young children, was killed. Gallegos of Mexico was charged with second-degree murder and driving while impaired.
It is uncertain where Gallegos was going at the time, but it is not surprising that he was in North Carolina.
The state’s requirements to obtain a driver’s license are weaker than those of many surrounding states, according to a performance audit of the licensing process.
Court officials in New Jersey, for instance, have complained that the requirements are so weak that busloads of illegal immigrants get on I-95 heading south and drive to North Carolina to obtain licenses fraudulently.
The audit, administered by the Department of Transportation and the Division of Motor Vehicles, said documents considered acceptable for proof of residency in North Carolina are easily forged, or the information provided by applicants is not verified.
North Carolina DOT is responding with tighter regulations. Last year, the department stopped issuing licenses to people holding several forms of foreign identification. Most foreign birth certificates, foreign marriage licenses, military identification cards from Mexico and a popular Mexican identification card known as the matricula consular are no longer accepted.
The Real ID Act, signed by President Bush in May 2005, will further strengthen the security of the Division of Motor Vehicles, the audit said.
But, meanwhile, North Carolina remains illegal alien alley on the highways.
Before the Real ID Act can be applied to North Carolina, differences in federal and state law must be reconciled, said DMV Commissioner George Tatum. For example, the audit states that North Carolina still accepts an individual taxpayer identification number in lieu of a Social Security number, but the Real ID Act eliminated the ITIN as an acceptable document.
A measure that passed in the state House, but is stalled in the Senate, would restrict licenses for immigrants by issuing them only for the duration of a visa.
State Rep. Cary Allred, R-Alamance, introduced a measure that didn’t survive that required individuals to prove they are legally present in the U.S. before acquiring a license.
Courts in New Jersey have recently found an unusual number of illegal immigrants with fraudulent driver’s licenses issued to them by North Carolina.
The immigrants are coming into the state by the busload to obtain the document, which allows them to drive, work, bank and rent housing, said Sonia Barria, the court administrator for the town of Dover, N.J.
“We have destroyed, I don’t know how many, North Carolina licenses,” Barria said in an interview with the News & Record of Greensboro. “Right now, we have waiting to be destroyed, one, two, three … 17 that have been confiscated over the last couple of months.”
The audit report also found North Carolina’s licensing system is ripe for fraud because of lax laws, inadequate equipment, understaffed offices and ineffective supervision.
Without mentioning illegal immigration, the report identifies a variety of loopholes and shortcomings in the state DMV that have made North Carolina a magnet for license seekers not in the country legally.
“Having less restrictive requirements appears to encourage individuals from other states to travel to North Carolina to obtain a driver’s license,” the report said.
In an accompanying chart, auditors noted that North Carolina is one of only 10 states that do not require that applicants prove they are legally present in this country.
They also criticized the DMV’s lenient policy for applicants who need interpreters, licensing offices staffed by just one examiner, weak control over data entered in the division’s computer system and an inconsistent chain of command that lets senior examiners write some of their own rules about acceptable identity documents.
Applicants who don’t speak English are allowed to bring their own interpreters to help them, the audit report found. Therefore, English-only examiners don’t know whether interpreters are inappropriately coaching the applicants, the report said.