Immigrant License Fraud Increases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Bryan
Watkins
May 19, 2011
                bwatkins@gopnm.org

In Case
You Missed It

Immigrant License Fraud Increases

Immigrant License Fraud Increases
By Tim Maestas
KRQE News
May 17, 2011
Read this online
at:
http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/on_assignment/immigrant-license-fraud-increases
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New Mexico’s appeal to foreign
criminals eager to exploit a state law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain
driver’s licenses is increasing.
However, state investigators are trying to blunt that
trend by using new tools to track the license requests and identify possible
fraud before the licenses can be issued.
“This problem is only growing bigger by the day,” said
Alvan Romero, who heads up a team of fraud investigators for the state’s
Taxation and Revenue Department. That department oversees the New Mexico Motor
Vehicle Division.
A change in state law in 2003 allows foreign nationals
to obtain drivers licenses in New Mexico regardless of their immigration status.
However, the rules require applicants to live in the state of New Mexico.
“They’re always going to say, ‘I reside somewhere in
New Mexico,’ because they know the law,” Romero said.
At one point, up to 18 states issued drivers licenses
to illegal immigrants. Now only New Mexico and Washington do it. And while
instances of fraud are up in New Mexico, the state has tweaked its policies to
be able to better sniff out the bad guys.
Since July of last year, anyone applying for the
state’s foreign national driver’s license has to make an appointment. That
change allowed MVD to better handle the demand and collect data on people who
request such licenses.
Agents at state-operated MVD offices are the first line
of review. Applicants whose documents pass the test are issued a temporary
driver’s license. The application is then passed on to Romero’s team of
investigators, who many times catch things MVD agents may have missed.
According to a breakdown of phone numbers gathered
during the application process, 37 percent of the 16,000 requests received
between August 2010 and April 2011 came from out-of-state. Most came from
Arizona, Georgia, and Texas.
“That simply tells me that something’s going on,”
Romero said. “It’s a total red flag.”
Another breakdown shows some phone numbers used dozens
of times to make appointments. One New Mexico number was used 228 times. A phone
number with an Arizona area code was used 24 times.
A similar list shows the same pattern with New Mexico
addresses. One address in Albuquerque was used more than 70 times in the
application process.
“There’s a whole lot of work to try to protect and keep
the integrity of this program as it is today,” Romero said.
Among those busted so far have been two Costa Rican
nationals, who were arrested in April and September of last year, and accused of
providing fake lease agreements so other Costa Rican nationals from New Jersey
could get New Mexico licenses.
A group of Chinese nationals also were arrested late
last year, accused of providing dozens of out-of-state Chinese immigrants with
fraudulent residency documents.
Two Albuquerque women were arrested for selling their
own addresses so 60 illegal immigrants could provide fake proof of
residency.
“Only an investigation, an in-depth investigation on
each and every one of these applications would we be able to satisfy ourselves,”
Romero said.
More than 80,000 New Mexico licenses have been issued
to foreign nationals since 2003. Last year alone, 24,000 were issued. That means
many fakes are slipping through the system, Romero said.
“These licenses are out there,” Romero said. “They
legitimize people. They’re very, very valuable.”

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Copyright © 2011 Republican Party
of New Mexico.
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