BMV to move on suspect registrations
47,457 vehicle owners need proof of residency
By Randy Ludlow
The Columbus Dispatch, October 16, 2009
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has quietly moved to cancel the potentially fraudulent registrations of thousands of vehicles driven by illegal immigrants.
With no public announcement, the agency mailed 47,457 letters to vehicle owners informing them that their registrations will be canceled unless they prove legal U.S. residency by Dec. 8.
The move comes after The Dispatch revealed that the BMV delayed implementing a crackdown on fraudulent registrations for more than a year after Latino business owners objected.
BMV spokeswoman Lindsay Komlanc said the mailing 'has nothing to do with targeting any one population,' but is designed to ensure 'every one of our registrations is as reliable as possible.'
Department of Public Safety Director Cathy Collins-Taylor ordered the move in a Sept. 22 memo, writing that she was unconvinced 'that everything that could be done is being done' to prevent fraud.
Joseph Mas, a Columbus lawyer and chairman of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, said it was 'disingenuous' to suggest the move was not aimed at Latinos with 'undetermined immigration status.'
A case could be made that registrations cannot be canceled before their scheduled expiration, Mas said. 'The position that all of these are fraudulent is absolutely untrue. They all complied with rules in effect at the time.'
Mas said the move will make it more difficult for undocumented workers to support their families but could have a 'silver lining' of pulling them off the road and sparing them potential deportation. He also said the state was close to illegally intruding into immigration issues, which are a federal responsibility.
A recent check discovered more than 47,000 vehicles have been registered without listing a driver's license or identification card number or Social Security number. A loophole once allowed illegal immigrants to hide their status by hiring others, known as 'runners,' to register their vehicles.
Those people were sent letters on Oct. 9 informing them that they must appear in person at a BMV deputy registrar's office by Dec. 8 and provide a valid Ohio driver's license or identification card or proof of a Social Security number.
Those who do will be charged $3.50 and their registration updated. Those who cannot will lose their registrations, exposing them to arrest — and deportation — if they are caught driving by police.
The questioned registrations have been flagged in a police computer system, but officers have been told not to seize any license plates until after Dec. 8, Komlanc said.
Tougher state regulations took effect on Aug. 24, requiring runners to provide the driver's license or state ID numbers of persons for whom they are registering vehicles so their identities can be verified.
The runners are legal U.S. residents who collected fees and used falsified power-of-attorney forms, which once only required a Social Security number to register vehicles for illegal immigrants. However, federal laws prevented the state from checking the validity of the Social Security numbers.
Former Public Safety Director Henry Guzman ordered changes to shut off the flow of license plates to illegal immigrants. However, he delayed implementing the policy on July 31, 2008, after meeting with dozens of largely Latino business owners. Unknown to Guzman, officials said, some runners attended the meeting.
Guzman said the proposed changes were flawed and blamed former BMV Registrar Mike Rankin for failing to quickly fix them. Rankin suggested in e-mails that Guzman was responsible for the delays. Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles is investigating the matter.