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Mayor: 'Illegal' ID system a state issue

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By Brent Schanding

Mayor Tom Hardesty Tuesday said city-issued IDs and other initiatives hyped by some as potential strategies for validating illegal immigrants should be left up to the state.

An independent commission tasked with investigating illegal immigration in Lexington last week recommended city leaders there model a photo ID system for its several thousands of suspected undocumented residents after a program in New Haven, Conn.

The commission also urged the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to lobby Frankfort leaders to allow illegal immigrants to legally obtain drivers license.

But Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry said last week he would not support a local ID card system because there is no evidence it would really benefit people. Newberry also rejected lobbying efforts aimed at relaxing drivers license requirements for illegals, deferring the issue to state lawmakers.

Hardesty added that initiatives aimed at validating illegal immigrants could have hidden loopholes and unforeseen costs if implemented here.

"This is something the state law ought to take care of," Hardesty said. "I don't see where the cities would need to get involved with this."

While Lexington-Fayette County has the second highest Hispanic population in the Kentucky behind Louisville Metro, the latest U.S. Census figures show Shelby County-Shelbyville has the highest per capita Hispanic population in the state. No surveys have been done to estimate what segment of that population is here illegally, but more than 126 illegal immigrants have been deported from the county in recent years, according to figures from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Dealing with the dilemma

Earlier this summer New Haven, Conn., became the first -- and only -- municipality in the country to validate illegal immigrants by allowing them to apply for city-issued photo IDs. Supporters of the initiative say it integrates immigrants into the community and protects them from crime that can occur because of a lack of documentation. The program also encourages illegal immigrants to report crimes to police, supporters claim. City-issued IDs also allow illegal immigrants to open bank accounts, apply for library cards and utilize other city and private services that require photo IDs, while limiting driving privileges granted by state-issued licenses.

"But what kind of identification would they have to provide to get this identification?" Hardesty said. "What kinds of references or passports would they have to have? Are they going to take you at your word?"

Hardesty said if identities are not properly authenticated, these cards could lead to identity fraud and other problems.

"It's probably got some pretty high administration costs, too." Hardesty said. He added that an intra-county agreement, with Simpsonville and county officials, would have to be worked out before any illegal ID system could be implemented here.

Substitute for license

Shelby County Circuit Clerk Kathy Nichols, who oversees drivers license issues, said her office has experienced growing problems with document falsification from illegal immigrants.

"If you have a permanent residence card we can process your drivers license in this office," Nichols said. "But the amount of fraudulent Social Security cards and birth certificates that have passed through here in the last few years is amazing."

Criminal charges could apply for those who falsify documents to obtain a license, Nichols said.

Kentucky was once one of the easiest states for illegal immigrants to get a drivers license. That changed after a 1998 incident in which the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested a vanload of illegals from Russia who had traveled from New York to Louisville to get drivers licenses. After that, Kentucky reinstituted a policy requiring that non-citizens applying for licenses take a written test. Kentucky offers the test in 21 languages. A full-time translator is employed by the Shelby County courthouse, which partly aids the drivers license bureau with those needing language assistance.

"Most of the Hispanic applicants know to bring someone with them that speaks English," Nichols said.

While illegal immigrants cannot legally apply for a Kentucky license without a Social Security number and birth certificate they still may be eligible to buy and register a vehicle. Nichols acknowledged that weekly court records suggest disproportionate numbers of assumed Hispanics, charged with no insurance and other driving violations. These facts help her understand the advantages of allowing illegal immigrants to obtain a drivers license. However, Nichols does not support lobbying efforts to relax existing laws for illegal immigrants.

"There are several senators and representatives that I would have to agree with," Nichols said. "Giving a legal document to an illegal person is not the legal thing to do. It's a vicious circle."

Hardesty agreed.

"If you're not qualified to obtain a license you shouldn't be applying for one," he said. "It may be something Sen. [Gary] Tapp or Rep. [Brad] Montell could look at. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to get an opinion from law enforcement agency either."