This article by Bruce Parker originally published Feb. 27, 2015, on Watchdog.org. This is part 5 of the Drivers Licenses for Illegals Series.
As an investigation into driver’s license fraud in Vermont expands to multiple states, the head of New Mexico’s motor vehicle division says the problem is international in scope.
In 2014, Vermont joined a growing number of states that grant driving privileges to residents regardless of immigration status. Presently, 10 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of driver’s permit to illegals.
But some states are moving to repeal their laws due to rampant license fraud.
New Mexico and Colorado are in the process of denying licenses to undocumented immigrants, and Oregon and Tennessee, which formerly issued such licenses, have repealed their laws.
In January, Vermont’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced the discovery of more than 100 fraudulent applications from non-resident illegal aliens.
While investigators have traced fraudulent applications to states including New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, New Mexico’s motor vehicle division chief says the fraud in her state is linked to international crime syndicates.
“We’re currently issuing a driver’s license, and we were seeing people come in not only from across the U.S. but from other countries,” Demesia Padilla, cabinet secretary over the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, told Vermont Watchdog.
Padilla, an appointee of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, said issuing licenses to illegal immigrants has attracted the interest of international crime rings.
“We’ve worked with Border Patrol and with ICE because our fraud was coming from Mexico, Bolivia, China, the Middle East, you name it. They were coming from Georgia, New York, and Chicago, too,” she said.
According to Padilla, undocumented immigrants pay thousands of dollars to obtain driving credentials.
“It’s very much a for-profit enterprise for these criminal elements. There were driver’s licenses being sold for as much as $4,500. In almost every case, we were seeing that there was a ringleader who had put a lot of the pieces together,” she said.
“They have somebody that’s willing to sell a fraudulent lease, somebody who is willing to do a fraudulent affidavit, somebody who’s willing to collect the mail at a mailbox, knowing the applicant was no longer even in our state.”
Unlike Vermont, which has yet to issue formal charges against anyone, New Mexico has indicted multiple individuals for forgery and conspiracy in running illegal driver’s license schemes.
In 2013, when Vermont debated S.38, which enabled undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s privilege cards, few opposed the legislation. The bill passed the Senate 27-2; the House approved by a vote of 105-39.
During committee hearings, Vermont lawmakers received multiple warnings the legislation could become a magnet for fraud.
In the report to the House and Senate Committees on Transportation, Mark Williams, former director of New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Division, reportedly testified the effect of New Mexico’s law had been to facilitate criminal fraud. Williams provided division records that showed a case in which 100 applicants listed the same apartment on their applications.
Wanda Adams, former assistant director at the Driver Services Division in Tennessee, testified that the state’s certificate of driving attracted a flurry of fraudulent residence documents, and was becoming a de facto ID.
Padilla says the problem is so great states have no choice but to repeal.
“Our problem is huge. The thing I can tell Vermont is that as soon as you see a pattern developing, you have to respond quickly and recognize that they find a workaround to any roadblock you put up,” she said.
Padilla advises Vermont prosecutors to go after organizers of the fraud.
“We would call the individuals in to do a face-to-face interview with one of our investigators. It was at that time that they would tell us, ‘I paid so and so for this,’ and they would help us get to the ringleaders,” she said.
“Most of our cases were focused on the ringleader. Our district attorneys were much more willing to take on those kinds of cases.”
Popular opinion appears to be turning against issuing credentials to illegal immigrants. In November, Oregon, a state dominated by Democrats, voted to repeal its law by a 68-33 margin.
Padilla says New Mexicans are also in favor of ending the practice.
“There was a poll in our local newspaper, and 70 percent of New Mexicans believe that the right thing to do is repeal the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.”