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Driver's license laws lead to confusion

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 13 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Sasheen Horn, left, and Jill Laws of the Utah Driver License Division and Tony Yapias discuss changes on the radio. (Josh Smith, Deseret News) Sasheen Horn, left, and Jill Laws of the Utah Driver License Division and Tony Yapias discuss changes on the radio. (Josh Smith, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Government officials and immigrant advocates are lining up to explain sweeping new driver's license laws that took effect this month.

Passed during last year's legislative session, the laws mandate that all Utah drivers provide proof of legal status to renew or obtain a driver's license.

Confusion over the exact requirements of the new regulations has extended beyond the immigrant population, leading to long lines at driver's license offices, Utah Driver License Division Director Nannette Rolfe said.

Drivers do not need to provide proof of legal status until they need to renew or apply for a new license, she said. Because of the revisions, drivers may no longer renew online.

During a call-in radio show Tuesday on the Spanish language station Exitos 1550 AM, immigrant advocates and a state driver license official were inundated with questions about the revised requirements.

Proyecto Latino de Utah Director Tony Yapias said commentators received more than 700 calls and dozens of text messages from concerned Latino residents during the show.

Most of the questions regarded procedure, rather than any overall opposition to the idea of asking drivers to provide immigration information, Yapias said.

"Utah is the only state that allows undocumented immigrants to drive," he said. "I think most people understand and appreciate that the state will give them cards."

Under the new system, drivers may be issued one of three cards: a "regular" driver's license, limited-term driver license, or a driving privilege card. Only the regular and limited-term licenses may be used for identification at places such as airports.

The new limited-term cards will be issued to drivers who are not U.S. citizens, nationals or permanent resident aliens who can prove they are in the country legally.

Driving privilege cards may be issued to individuals who do not qualify for regular or limited-term cards.

Rolfe said the laws represent a major challenge for the agency.

"This is the biggest change at the Driver License Division," she said. "Now we have to check all kinds of identification."

Yapias said community members have expressed concerns that the new form asks applicants if they are illegal immigrants.

"The big question from the community is, 'Are (driver license officials) going to share this information with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)?'" he said.

Yapias said immigration officials have assured him that the information gathered would not be used for immigration enforcement.

"I don't think that's something to worry about," he said.

Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said the new cards would not affect the way UHP officers conduct traffic stops.

"I think it's a good idea because it provides us more information, but it won't change what we do," he said.

A full list of the documentation required for drivers licenses and ID cards is available online at www.publicsafety.utah.gov/dld.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com

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