2009-06-25 / Features

Driver Fraud Crackdown Worries Immigrants

By Mark Scolforo ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Hundreds of Pennsylvania drivers have been given more time to prove who they are in a fraud and identity theft crackdown by the state that has generated objections from immigrant groups.

A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman said Friday the agency pushed back the deadline to cancel licenses for some drivers over questions about their Social Security numbers after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"While we respect these concerns, PennDOT must continue to work on mitigating the risk for potential fraud, and our efforts to date are consistent with that focus,'' said agency spokeswoman Danielle Klinger.

ACLU lawyer Vic Walczak said the notification letters PennDOT sent in late May contained inaccurate and misleading information and did not give the recipients enough time to challenge the action in a meaningful way.

"The good news is that after a fair bit of give-and-take with the lawyers for the department, they agreed to postpone the deadline and reissue the notice,'' Walczak said. "And we have a meeting set up for Monday.''

For the past two years, PennDOT been trying to verify about 45,000 names in its computer system that did not match Social Security Administration records, Klinger said. So far, 9,200 people have lost their licenses.

In many cases, she said, the discrepancy was traced to dataentry problems or was blamed on women not updating the Social Security Administration with their married names.

Last month, the department sent letters to a final group of about 2,100 drivers, and about 600 have gone to PennDOT offices with the required documentation.

Immigration lawyer Cynthia Haynes said she and others involved in the case have been flooded with calls in recent weeks, making her doubt the state's numbers of how many were contacted.

"If it was just 2,100 letters, I can't say it would have caused such a stir,'' Haynes said.

PennDOT's letter said non- U.S. citizens had to produce a Social Security card, passport, immigration documents and written verification from their school or employer by Friday or their driving privileges would be canceled. Walczak said the letter was inaccurate and its complicated wording was confusing for those with limited English skills.

"Not everybody has to have a valid Social Security card or passport in order to get a driver's license in Pennsylvania, nor in some cases are people eligible to have those documents,'' such as those granted political asylum, Walczak said.

Haynes said she was concerned that, despite the reprieve, some who received letters could find they have lost driving privileges. She said one person checked on the status of their license at a PennDOT office on Friday and was told it had been canceled.

"That is a major concern, especially if law enforcement agencies are able to view that information,'' she said. "If one of these individuals gets pulled over, our concern is, what happens to this person?''

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