Connecticut’s “Drive Only” program was designed to keep drivers safe on the road, but dozens of those licenses have been revoked during a recent investigation. NBC Connecticut Investigates has uncovered that thousands more may have also been obtained fraudulently.
The program is in place to provide drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants to legally operate vehicles.
Nely Mendoza of Bridgeport said the Connecticut drive only license she got at the DMV in 2018 “...changed my life enormously so now I can do many things like take my kids to school, and go grocery shopping.”
Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants like Mendoza have benefited from the drive only license program, according to Alok Bhatt, of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance.
“It offers folks a sense of security, that if anything happens, and they get pulled over for any reason, they have a valid state-issued driving identification.”
All it takes to get one, a passport or foreign ID, a couple of bills for proof of address and to pass a safe driving course, driving test, and vision test.
But there are major concerns about the drive-only program.
NBC Connecticut Investigates obtained via a Freedom of Information request a June 2018 Department of Motor Vehicles internal memo titled “Address Fraud Meeting Minutes.”
It said the DMV’s Document Integrity Unit is aware of “numerous” people with drive-only licenses who submitted fake proof of address documents, often utility or consumer lending bills, to get them.
A former DMV employee who wants to remain anonymous says he knows about the investigation
“It’s very easy to make up a bill, that looks legit, and again, it’s not checked. There’s no verification of these bill,” he said.
The internal memo said DMV investigators spotted patterns where people would use home addresses other than their own, including commercial ones, for their drive-only licenses. At first, the agency thought as many as 30,000 people could be doing this but narrowed that down to 9,000 individuals they are now investigating.
DMV Deputy Commissioner Tony Guererra admitted it’s potentially serious problem.
“It could be serious. Again, it could be. But that’s again, we have to go through the process of looking into it, because again, you went from 30,000 to 9,000. It could be whittled down to 1,000 to 500.” he said.
So far, the DMV has revoked drive-only licenses from 87 people as a result of this investigation. The memo says they listed their home address as one of five commercial locations in Shelton, New Haven, Norwalk, and Berlin. It also alleges that these individuals may have received fraudulent licenses with the assistance of attorneys.
DMV employees familiar with the program said they have serious concerns, talking with NBC Connecticut Investigates off camera for fear of retribution.
One said, “It surprises me that the higher ups don't seem concerned about this. I’m pretty sure on countless times examiners have brought them documents that seem fishy, and they're just getting pushed through.”
The 87 drive-only license holders whose credentials were revoked must pay $175 if they want to reapply for a drive only license.
The former DMV employee who spoke with us said anyone who submits phony documents to get a license should face criminal charges, like fraud, and said, “The DMV doesn’t do anything to combat that. All they do is revoke.”
“There’s a fine to it, and they have to go through the process. …. I mean, basically you’ve given us a fraudulent address, and now, here, pay this money and you can get your license. …That’s what the statute says, that’s what the law is, and that’s what we’re doing,” Guererra said.
Luis Ramirez, an Uber driver from New Haven has a CT DMV issued drive-only license.
“When the program passed, oh my God I was very happy man,” he said.
Ramirez said he believes the problems with drive-only licenses are probably true.
Still, he urged state leaders to fix the program, and not get rid of it.
“In the state, there is no job opportunities if you don’t have transportation,” Ramirez said.
There is no timeline on when this DMV investigation will be completed.
The DMV memo said there were law offices at all the addresses used by the 87 people who had their licenses revoked. The agency received one complaint from someone who said he paid a lawyer $3,000 for a drive-only license, which was later revoked.