REAL ID Act leaving some legal immigrants feeling hopeless

Published: Saturday, Oct. 1 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

The Utah Driver License Division requires legal immigrants to provide one document from each of the following categories, in order to receive a limited-term driver’s license:

• Unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

• Unexpired foreign passport and unexpired visa

• Pending or approved application for refugee or asylee status

• Pending application for adjustment of status to legal permanent resident and U.S. Social Security card

The Blagas said they meet all of these requirements. However, because the REAL ID Act does not recognize legal immigrants with temporary visas, driver license staff, as well as applicants, are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“That means that our staff has had to come up to speed on what type of documents would establish what type of status,” Caras said, “and that's not something we've ever had to do before.”

Instead, Sorin Blaga said a supervisor at the West Valley Department of Motor Vehicles pressured them to apply for a driving privilege card. His son now has a driving privilege card, but Sorin and Mihaiela Blaga are leery to take that action because of the stigma tied to illegal immigrants here in Utah.

“It's an erroneous perception,” said Caras. “It’s an unfair categorization to say that holding a driving privilege card says that this person is in the state without legal presence.”

However, Caras admitted that Utah’s adoption of the REAL ID law seems to place some legal immigrants in a state of “limbo.”

“Since Utah’s law mirrors the REAL ID law, it puts them in an area where they don't really qualify for a regular Utah license," he said. "They also don't quality under the statute for a limited-term license.”

In the past, some Utah legislators have criticized the REAL ID law, stating that it would essentially violate citizens’ rights and privacy. Others complained it would inconvenience legal immigrants in an attempt to catch illegal immigrants. Some lawmakers see the law as a threat from the federal government that could affect identification documents that everyone needs in order to fly on commercial airlines, enter government buildings, open bank accounts and more.

Still, Caras said the Utah Driver License Division can only run documents through the verification system that's required by homeland security. “This is not an area that we're used (to), being pulled into the middle of immigration issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Blagas are concerned with their son being labeled as an illegal immigrant because he carries the driving privilege card. Caras recommends immigrants carry their legal immigration documents with them at all times, if they’re worried about operating a motor vehicle with a driving privilege card.

Sorin Blaga’s limited-term license will expire next month and his wife’s license will expire in 2012. They’re tired of the constant trips to attempt to renew their limited-term licenses. He feels hopeless.

“I have no idea what to do or how to solve this problem,” he said.

If you have questions or complaints about your local DMV, go to publicsafety.utah.gov/dld/

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