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DMV Tackles Fraudsters Seeking Driver's Privilege Cards

Vermont's Department of Motor Vehicles was breaking Vermont law when it searched its records using facial recognition software, Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says.
Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
A legally-obtained license blurs the driver's face to protect her identity. A law that allows undocumented migrant workers to drive legally in Vermont has been largely successful, but some out-of-state immigrants have fraudulently exploited it.

In January 2014 Vermont enacted a law that established a new kind of driver’s license called a driver’s privilege card. The identification allows undocumented immigrant farmworkers residing in Vermont to drive legally in the state.

The program has been largely successful – not only in helping migrant workers be more independent and travel long distances to and from work – but also for Vermont residents who don’t have all the documentation necessary for a traditional driver’s license that counts as a federal “Real ID.”

But one consequence of the new law has been an opportunity for out-of-state immigrants to fraudulently obtain drivers licenses. In one case, a Russian language ad in a New York newspaper directed foreign nationals to a contact who promised to help them obtain a Vermont driver’s license.

Several fraudulent attempts believed to be related to this ad were detected by Vermont’s Department of Motor Vehicles, says Commissioner Robert Ide.

“In the case in Bennington, our workers are very familiar with the community… so when they know a building is a small residence and all of the sudden there are multiple people living there, we at least have one of our investigators drive by and see if it’s possible,” Ide says.

In the Bennington case, other clues also led investigators to uncover that these residency claims were false, and the men’s driver’s privilege cards were revoked.

However, Ide says frequently people are being truthful. He mentioned the case where an investigator checked and ten to twelve roofers from Guatemala were all living in the same house.

Ide says the DMV has investigated over 200 cases, and in most cases found the document was issued appropriately. 

If a Vermont driver’s privilege card were mistakenly issued, the risk is that a person could use it in another jurisdiction to obtain other documents and in a few iterations, the person could appear to be an American citizen, says Ide. That’s why the investigators’ role and diligence of other offices are so important.

Still, Ide says the driver’s privilege card is helping many Vermonters.

“For the people who are providing valuable work on Vermont dairy farms, we think it has been a success,” says Ide. “They certainly deserve the opportunity to move around in their community, and to access the goods and services that each of us enjoy.”

Ide says the department was surprised at how many Vermonters are taking advantage of the program: 16 percent of all renewals are opting for the driver’s privilege card instead of the real ID. 

For now, citizens can use the driver’s privilege card as identification for flying within the country. Homeland security will ultimately require travelers to have a Real ID-compliant license to board a plane, but the department hasn’t instituted this change yet.

In Vermont, those who have a driver’s privilege card can bring in the additional documents required and upgrade to a real ID-compliant driver’s license for no additional cost.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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