Contributed by Aaron Hall, Senior Attorney
One of the first things that many noncitizens want to do after getting immigration status is to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and get their driver’s licenses. Unfortunately, for more and more noncitizens, the simple process of trying to get a driver’s license can end up leading to felony criminal charges and deportation.
The process, which seems to be happening more and more often, generally goes something like this: A noncitizens who has previously applied for or obtained a license or ID under a fake name gets legitimate immigration status or work authorization from Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When he takes his legitimate documents to apply for a license, the DMV matches the person to the previous attempt to get a license under a fake name. The match to the previous application for a license with false information is generally made through fingerprints or through facial recognition software. Then, DMV will just let the applicant know that there is an issue and “invite” them to come back in for a meeting with an investigator to discuss the matter. At that meeting, an officer will try to get the noncitizen to confess to fraudulently trying to get an ID in the past. After the confession, an arrest soon follows.
Noncitizens can be charged with multiple felonies on these cases, including the attempt to influence a public official, forgery, criminal impersonation, and identity theft. After the arrest, the information is turned over to immigration officials to be used against the noncitizen in deportation proceedings. Convictions for these charges can have devastating immigration consequences.
The bottom line is that noncitizens applying for their licenses must know that information they give officers at the DMV can be used against them to support serious criminal charges. Any noncitizen who has ever applied for an ID by giving any false information must be especially careful and should seek qualified immigration and criminal defense counsel before applying for a driver’s license. If the noncitizen finds himself in a situation where he is being questioned about past applications, he should request the opportunity to consult with a lawyer and invoke his right to remain silent.
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