Tenn. ends program of immigrant licensing

Richard Fausset Los Angeles Times Feb. 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Tennessee has ended its policy of issuing "certificates for driving" to undocumented immigrants, citing federal investigations that uncovered applicants using fraudulent documents and even bribing state workers to obtain driving privileges, officials said Friday.

The state began giving immigrants the certificates in July 2004, with the hope of balancing homeland security and traffic concerns. The cards give holders the legal right to drive but, unlike driver's licenses, they are not to be used for identification purposes. For instance, they cannot be used to board an airplane.

By doing so, state officials had hoped to solve a problem that has bedeviled other states.

The Tennessee model was criticized early on from diverse quarters. Anti-immigration forces worried that it gave legitimacy to undocumented immigrants. Immigration-rights groups feared that police and others would be confused, and thus inconsistent, in dealing with the cardholders.

Officials in Nashville grew concerned in recent months as federal investigations uncovered numerous instances of fraud.

Bob Corney, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, said the Governor's Office was informed that immigrants were coming from other states to get the IDs, using forged residency documents.

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