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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
With assistance from Joey Whaley, a Driver License Division employee, John Garman previews the information on his Utah ID card.

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 » Man without a country: Dream is citizenship, documentation — and a future

In just a few minutes on Monday, John Garman was issued a Utah identification card. It may not seem like much, but for Garman it symbolizes what he hopes is the end of nearly a decade of struggling to establish citizenship.

For Garman the card means freedom. It means he can find stable employment, open a bank account and eventually work toward a contractor license.

"With what I've got in my back pocket right now, I'm able to work," he says. "It has the Utah identification number on there ... I can get hired anywhere."

Garman hopes it's the end of an era of living in the shadows like an undocumented immigrant, which started when as a young adult he found out he didn't qualify for a Social Security number after serving time in California for a felony burglary conviction.

When he was adopted as a child by American parents, Garman's place of birth was listed as Tijuana, but that was never verified, according to the Merced County Human Services agency. And, even though he automatically became a permanent resident when he was adopted, his conviction nullified that, making him unable to establish legal status.

A court order recently changed his place of birth from Tijuana to Livingston, Calif. And Garman hopes that will make all the difference. He used that document to get his temporary ID on Monday and is anxious for the ID card to arrive in the mail.

But while Garman is hopeful, he's not out of the woods. He used a Social Security number that was issued but later rescinded, apparently after Garman was found to be ineligible. Garman went back to the Social Security Administration last week with his new birth certificate.

Nanette Rolfe, who heads the Utah Driver License Division, said an instant check validated Garman's Social Security number when he applied for his identification card on Monday.

However, it will likely take two to three weeks to check Garman's status and verify his documents with California, said Doug Smith, a spokesman for the SSA.

Rolfe says if there are any issues with Garman's Social Security number, her agency would be notified and would send Garman a letter indicating he needs to clear up those discrepancies.

Garman has other legal issues he's working on. He still has a traffic fine for driving without license, insurance or registration, and a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

But Randall K. Edwards, an attorney who recently started working with Garman, says if he actually does have a valid Social Security number and state identification card, Garman should be able to overcome those other obstacles.

"Ultimately, I have every confidence that he's going to be OK," Edwards said. "He truly can see some bright light at the end of the tunnel."

That light almost didn't happen Monday. He first went to the division $8 short of the $18 he'd need to get a state ID card.

He sold some DVDs to a friend to get some cash, then went back but didn't have proof of address. Finally, just before 3 p.m., he went back to the Driver License Division with everything he needed.

Now, Garman is relieved to finally be able to show an identification that wasn't issued by a correctional facility — for years his prison ID was his only photo ID.

"It's out of my wallet," he says. "It's going to go up in a frame on my wall. ... It's going to become a conversation piece."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com