Monday, March 19, 2007

My DMV Nightmare - Courtesy of the Real ID Act


A Week From Hell

A story that I have been wanting to post for almost a year, but never got around to.

From The Adventures of an Angry Black Man…. How A Trip to the DMV Turned Into A Week From Hell and Led To My First-hand Introduction to “Homeland Security” and the new America….

My how times have changed

It was around the 8th of July, 2006- a Friday, and I needed to renew my drivers license. Like most people, I waited until the last minute to take care of my license renewal. I made sure that I had everything that I needed (which is more today than in the past). I needed a birth certificate- for proof of citizenship- CHECK. A Social Security Card- CHECK. Two bills to show proof of residence in the State- CHECK. The old drivers license along with the renewal notification- CHECK. And the $20.00 Fee for renewal- CHECK. I’ll be in and out in an hour at the very most- so I thought (I was watching the clock because I had to work later that day).

So I hop in the car and make my way down to the Missouri drivers license renewal office, expecting a routine renewal. I get to the office (located on the South side of the city of St. Louis) and it’s packed….and completely out of order.

SIDE NOTE: The DMV services in my area were once controlled by professionals from the State of Missouri. However, at some point over the last few years, the system was given to a private entity to operate (more outsourcing… Sound Familiar?). With private contract companies hiring just about anyone and paying low wages in order to maximize profits, what do you think has been the result of that change? Should I even ask that question? Needless to say, the quality of service has dropped considerably.

So I get to this office on St. Louis' South side, and it’s dirty, there is only one service agent working, and there are at least 30-40 people in the building, seated all over. There was no sign of order…. The number machine was not being used to keep track of who goes next. You just had to find a seat in what looked like it could be a line. With only one service agent working, the “line” moved at a pace that’s somewhere between a Snail and a Tortoise.

After sitting there for 25-30 minutes, the very attentive worker with a professional demeanor and no attitude (tongue in cheek) decided that she would make an announcement to let customers know that “there will be no license renewals today…the computers are down”…and I said Whaaaaaa? “She said…yes…we have been announcing this all day…and there is a sign posted sir”.

I was aggravated…but not Postal at this point. Let me tell you about the “sign” that was posted at the entry way. The message was written on a little piece of construction paper, written in non-descript lettering with a magic marker…. POSTED ON A LARGE BULLETIN BOARD NEAR THE FRONT WITH ABOUT 10,000 OTHER USELESS NOTES THAT NO ONE READS. IT CAUGHT NO ONES ATTENTION, AS INDICATED BY DOZENS OF OTHERS WHO SHARED MY AGGRAVATION. If they wanted to catch someone’s attention, they should have placed a large note on the front glass door where people would see it and read it, warning customers as they arrived…or placed the notice on a large sign holder at the front. But that was too much like right, huh?

Pissed off…. I leave and head out to St. Louis County, to a DMV office about the same distance from my residence. About a 10-12 minute drive from where I started.
I get there and surprise!!!! There is a line leading almost out of the door of this small cramped office. I waited patiently for my turn (about 30 minutes of standing), making sure that I still had everything that I needed.

I finally get to the front of the line and finally got my chance at bat. I explained that I wanted to do a renewal, handed the agent my drivers license….and proceeded to explain my birth certificate to the young lady (who seemed reasonable).

SIDE NOTE: In Missouri (as part of the “Show Me Proof” law, passed by the State legislature to comply with new Federal “Real ID Act” requirements) you have to show a government issued birth certificate…with seal, etc. preferably by one of the 50 States. The purpose is to prove citizenship. They want to know that you're not Al Qaeda. O.k... fair enough.


So I explained to the young lady that I was born overseas (Southern Europe) as a Department of Defense dependent. I presented my original birth certificate from a Federal government hospital, with a government seal, and signed by two military officials. Also on the document was my parents information. In addition, I also presented a copy of my record of birth from the U.S. State Department- issued for children (and U.S. citizens) born abroad. This is most commonly used for “military brats” as official documentation. She looked confused.
She went to the back office and conferred with her superior and she was gracious enough to tell me that I was o.k. (I was a citizen….why thank you for that validation). So she attempted to get the renewal process started. But the fun was just beginning.

Something in the States licensing system didn’t like my name and date of birth. She told me that I would not be able to renew my license that day due to an unknown problem. I would have to call “Jefferson City”… the glorious capital of this Red Ultra-Conservative cow State. So I walk out… thinking of all the times I drove too fast or tried to beat the yellow light. I had no tickets…. You just think of all the bad shit you have been doing over the last 6 years….. (and the baddest thing for me is driving a little fast….but I have no driving record). The only time that I am pulled over it’s for DWB… My driving record is perfect….with no record of any tickets or points on my license.

By the time I got home that afternoon, it was time to go to work (a place that gives me even more stress…and will probably lead to my early death). So I had to sweat over this nonsense until the following Monday.

Monday finally roles around and I call the DMV headquarters in the State Capital. After numerous phone calls, attempting to reach a competent human being, I eventually make contact with a supervisor. The supervisor there tells me that there is a hold (freeze) on my drivers license, put on by the State of New Jersey. She was also unable to tell me what the nature of the problem was. She gave me a number to call from the New Jersey DMV (also known as the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission).

SIDE NOTE: As part of Homeland Security legislation (The Real ID Act) States must now share the driver information of their citizens with all other States through a common database. If there is a problem with a driver in one State, the information will show up in all other States. States are able to prevent you from getting your license (or even renewing as in my case) in a different State.

Soliloquy- Now this is really getting weird. Why would the State of New Jersey put a hold on my license here in Missouri, preventing me from renewing? I have been a licensed driver in my home State for 13 continuous years. New Jersey? From all that I have seen or heard about it… It’s a giant garbage dump…near New York. Not known for anything of any particular significance…other than being a garbage dump. Point is…. I’ve never set foot in that State.

So I call the State of New Jersey….. Mind you, the long distance bills are now beginning to pile up…because it took several calls before I reached someone with a brain in Missouri’s State Capital.

Again… after calling a Toll number and waiting on hold for 15 minutes, I finally got frustrated and began looking for alternate numbers to call (because the main line there is completely useless…especially if you are calling from out of State). Logic would suggest that if the States have this program, and they can hold your license from another State, the least they could do is to provide a toll free number for out of State callers. After calling numerous alternate numbers that I was lucky enough to locate online, I finally got in contact with someone. ALL ATTITUDE. The lip smacking, eye rolling kind. At this point, I was at Postal level. She looked up the information in a database and advised me that New Jersey was holding my drivers license, preventing me from renewing in my home State because I had too many unpaid parking tickets in New Jersey. WRONG ANSWER! I immediately advised her that I have never lived in New Jersey, have never set foot in New Jersey, and I had no friends or relatives in that State. I advised her that my information could be easily verified with the State of Missouri, and that she needed to proceed to unfreezing my license so that I could renew it. I told her this was a problem of sloppy work on the part of New Jersey.

She advised me that I had the same name and birthdate as someone who lives there with these unpaid parking tickets. They could not provide any information on age, race, height, weight, or anything about the individual. She then proceeded to tell me that if I wanted to renew my license in my home State, that I would have to prove to the State of New Jersey that I was not the person that they were looking for (when the information was readily available if the two States had done a better job of communicating). In other words, the burden of proof was on me, when it should have been on the State of New Jersey.

So I immediately got busy, writing the letter that they required, and spent the entire day gathering documentation regarding my identity, my residence, my personal info, college transcripts (showing 13 or 14 years of residence in my State), making copies and sending faxes…. Driving around trying to complete errands before time ran out/end of the business day. After 1-2 dozen phone calls, and spending money on copies, and faxes…. I was eventually able to prove that I was not the person that New Jersey was looking for and that I never lived in the State. Of course I was left with the bill for all the errands and long distance phone calls.

I have a fairly common name…so this type of situation is bound to happen with this new formalized system that State governments are using. I was surprised that there were no provisions ahead of time to remedy this situation…or better yet, prevent if from happening. Someone didn’t have their thinking cap on at Homeland Security when they thought of the idea of linking all 50 States together like this.

I was finally able to obtain a “Clearance Letter” from the State of New Jersey, which allowed me to file for a renewal license in my home State. One sticking point is….. It appears that the problem doesn’t go away after you are “cleared”. The document will have to be put on file at Missouri’s DMV headquarters and I will have to carry the letter with me (either on my person or in my car) everywhere I go…and it will be like that indefinitely. Until the garbage dump resident who shares my name takes care of his tickets. In other words, whenever my name is run through the States computer…guess what… this nonsense will pop up every time. Why should I have to be saddled with this burden? I even tried to solicit help from the legal system….but that was fruitless…. Since I’m not among the “well-to-do” of society, I got no assistance from the legal system…no lawyers…no nothing. (And this is the essence of why people go postal in American society… not that I would do it…because it’s not something that I would consider… but it gives some insight into why these things happen).

So I will be saddled with this for God knows how long… And No apology from the State of New Jersey, no reimbursement for the approximately $30-40 of costs that I incurred. Nothing but more Attitude from the people on the other end of the phone.

So later that evening, I attempt to make it to the DMV, just on the off chance that it may not be as packed and I could get everything done. No such luck. I quickly discovered that the small office was packed twice as much as before. So I call it quits and turn around to head for home. I was free the next day anyway, and I could finish up everything then.

Next day… Tuesday (July 12th), armed with all the same documentation that I started with, plus the “Clearance” document from New Jersey… I set out on another Journey to complete something as routine as a drivers license renewal. Feeling relieved… I hop in the car, and make my way towards the same cramped, poorly staffed St. Louis area DMV office. Once there, I discover that the place is packed once again… no real surprise. Only one service agent is handling drivers licenses.

This was not the same agent as before…so I was prepared to explain my birth certificate to the young lady at the counter (even younger and more inexperienced than the agent who assisted me 4 days before). After about 30 minutes, I finally reach the front of the line. I handed the young lady all of my documentation, including my birth certificate from the U.S. Naval Hospital overseas where I was born.

Upon seeing the birth certificate, the agent was immediately confused, because it didn’t look like any of the birth certificates that they are used to seeing (issued by various County governments across the State). So she went to the back to confer with a supervisor. Can you guess the result?

You betcha!!! Although the same birth certificate was accepted a few days earlier at the same private DMV office, this time they decided that they were not going to accept it. Why? Because it was a Hospital issued birth certificate. They require a government issued birth certificate from one of the 50 States. Now all of a sudden I had these people telling me (in so many words) that I was not an American citizen as far as they were concerned. I would have to prove my citizenship.
But I tried to explain to the dimwits that my birth certificate was a government issued birth certificate…. A Federal government birth certificate. It was a legal document….signed by Navy officials and having an official raised seal of the U.S. Navy.

SIDE NOTE: It appears that when the Real ID rules were put into place, the politicians in Washington DC forgot to make provisions for the millions of military dependents (American citizens) born overseas….while their families were helping to fight the damn Cold War. How’s that for dedication to the troops and their families? The idiots forgot all about us.

The young lady was not able to tell me what I needed to do next. So I asked to speak to the supervisor. Instead of helping me… they laughed in my face. I almost went to jail that day. I won’t say what happened next….but it was an out of body experience. The kind that Richard Pryor had when he burned himself up.
And everything was in slow motion too… I almost reached across the counter to grab the little twit (the supervisor was no older than 22 or 23) by the neck. I wanted to squeeze it until she turned purple. But I caught myself…. The St. Louis County Police department doesn't play around… and they would have shot me in the ass without hesitation. So I got myself together and took my black ass home. I didn’t want to lose my job either…as much as I despise every second that I am there. But I did give them a tongue lashing. I’m usually a quiet, reasonable, docile guy (to a point), until people F--k with me, insult my intelligence, test my patience a little too much, or mistake my “laid back” demeanor for weakness (BAD BAD mistake).

I would later figure out that what I needed was an official document from the U.S. State Department, which holds all of the records on U.S. citizens born outside of the country. The problem is, the documents were $30.00 a piece…and took 4-6 weeks to arrive. It also required me to obtain an affidavit, make more copies, get a notary, etc. It was a mess. I ordered 2 documents and waited. I also had to get an extension on my drivers license, which was expired by this time.

When my documents arrived…. I was finally able to get my license renewed in the State of Misery (Missouri). But not after spending approximately $100.00 dealing with 2 problems related to the Real ID Act.

As strange as it may seem…. I actually support the general concept of the Real ID Act. This is something that the country should have had in place before 9/11. There needs to be a way to make sure that our ID systems are secure and harder to counterfeit. There needs to be a way to make sure that people getting licenses are actually entitled. My problem with the Real ID Act has to do with the way that the government rushed the legislation without thinking it through to come up with a good plan, and the way that it was implemented. The planning and implementation for this has been dismal. There was also a problem with passing information on to the Public. I am someone who keeps up with the news religiously, and even I was barely aware of the Real ID requirements. So how is the average citizen supposed to be aware? There were no PR campaigns informing the public of anything. All I received was a post card from the DMV about 3-4 weeks prior to my license expiring. The card had a brief message reminding me that it was time to renew and that I would need a birth certificate. But it did not explain in detail, what kind of birth certificate I needed, and it didn't address the issue of American citizens born overseas at all. Furthermore, the time needed for me to get my State Department documents (6 weeks) exceeded the time that I had left on my license before it was to expire. It is clear that no one on the Federal or State level thought this through.

The Real ID plan also has a lot of flaws. For example, the Real ID requirements would not have stopped some of the 9/11 hijackers from getting a license because under the Act, non-citizens (such as foreign students) would still be able to get drivers licenses. Many of the 9/11 hijackers were here under student Visas. So therefore, the Real ID Act (as it is currently written) seems to be misguided. Instead of creating this hell for American citizens, more effort should be directed towards securing the Foreign Visa system, to help make sure that terrorists are not gaming that system. I have described ways that this could be done…. Such as limiting Visas from certain countries, and tightening the screening. There should also be an effort to build more American college campuses overseas, so that foreigners can attend American colleges without applying for U.S. Visas…. This could reduce the number of Visa requests…while serving the needs of foreign students at the same time.

There seems to be no creative thinking and no political will among policy-makers to fix these problems.

________________________

RELATED LINKS

The Missouri State Assembly Votes Against The Federal 'Real ID Act'


The 'Real ID Act' explained

New Requirements Going Into Effect

CNet Article- How The Real ID Act Will Affect You

Privacy Issues

NPR Report

Wiki Information on 'Real ID'

Real ID Act: Real Problems

Other ID Issues

ID Requirements Could Impact Healthcare

Article On ID and Healthcare

7 comments:

Bruce Dixon said...

The situation with you and the NJ resident with a similar name and DOB was introduced with what they call a "match" requirement. In view of your difficulty, I would next worry about whether you (or the person with the similar name and DOB in Jersey) will be able to vote.

In recent years, thousands of people have been thrown off the voter rolls because there were others with similar names and DOBs in neighboring states. Check out the Brennan Center for Justice report Cast Out".

I too had to get a new drivers license a couple weeks ago here in GA. I got together the ID they asked for three years ago when last I lost my wallet -- bank statement, property tax bill, car registration and headed down to the DMV. None of that was any good, they told me.

The only documents that would get me a duplicate drivers license the same day were a US birth certificate or a completed income tax return and social security card. They've turned the DMV into the immigration police bureau.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this! It really pisses me off and what pisses me off even more, is that more people aren't pissed off about this! Come on people, please don't be sheeps. We need to do something now!!

Anonymous said...

I really do feel for you. I'm in the middle of a nightmare with the California DMV. Several years ago it literally took 2 1/2 years to do a change of address on one of my vehicles. These people are the most incompetent slugs I have ever been forced to deal with. But we're stuck. We have to deal with them and they know it.

Now, after sending for a couple of needed documents, my wife has to deal with them for a California ID. I'm sure looking forward to this.

Gatti said...

New Jersey DMV is just as bad. This Real ID thing is utter garbage. I find way too many flaws in it since all components of documentation can be easily counterfeited and it does absolutely nothing to prevent undocumented people from driving cars.

P.S. NJ isn't a complete garbage dump. Don't believe MTV. Sure, there are seedy places, but only the cities in NJ. The suburbs and country towns are quite nice.

Anonymous said...

Just moved to Ga and like you, my husband was born in Europe due to his dad being stationed over there during the cold war. We have all the original documentations including a pristine passport and a current drivers licence. And like you none of it is good enough. So according to the Ga dmv, he is an illegal. I have been with my husband for over 20 years and have never seen him this angry. I joked and said at least he has 3 anchor babies which he would have normally laughed about but today... He doesn't find it funny. We will be requesting everything under the sun for Id purposes in hopes of never dealing with this again

Brian E. said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment...

My situation was finally resolved (partially) after I ordered papers from the State Department. The situation was resolved further (hopefully permanently) a few years ago when the hold was lifted for reasons they never gave me. I guess the folks in NJ were finally able to deal with the person they were looking for (guy sharing my name)...and got the fines resolved.

Tell your husband to be patient. He will have to order documents from the State Department ('Certificate of Report of Birth' or 'Consular Report of Birth Abroad'). Both are supposed to be good as Birth certificates (equal). But I ordered both documents just in case... even though I didn't need to. It may take 4-6 weeks to get the documents back.

It's still a pain. I had to pay for notary service, had to make an affidavit promising that I was telling the truth about my birth parents being deceased & that I was an American, and had to do a bunch of other running around.

It's a shame that the States (which are still trying to push these requirements for ID) did not even think about Americans born overseas...especially Americans who are from military families who did their part serving the country. Felt like a slap in the face.... still annoys me quite a bit. I blame the Feds too... they had to have known this would be a problem. They could have put guidelines together to prevent this and could have made it easier to get the necessary documents.

I also suggest your husband get a passport and passport ID card. That will work the same for proof of citizenship..and is easier to carry around at all times.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had problems with the ID laws as they are now !
The only comment I wanted to make, was.... Why does the label "African/American" have to be attached to everything ?
I don't go around calling myself an "Irish/American" or "Irish/German/English/American" as it is with most folks, born with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Just as many "African/Americans" have European ancestors mixed in to their family trees.
Why as Americans, do we accept this splintering of our national identity and set apart so many different groups, based on primary heritage ?
Heritage is fine, and there is nothing wrong with having pride in where ones ancestors hail from. Tell me this though, what forms did you fill out to gain membership in your group ?
The point being, it was not a matter of choice, was it ?
You can, pick your national identity though, even if born into it...( renounce your U.S.citizenship and apply for citizenship in the country of your ancestors for example.) Please, try to wrap your mind around the concept, that we are all Americans and share that national identity.
As such, we are all brothers and sisters of that shared American experience.
We are Americans ! !
Lets see what a few generations of that outlook, would do to our problems with race in our shared nation.
We are not different, but the same and such a mindset can not be faulted !
If it is too hard to grasp, start slow, like this...
Thank you for taking the time to read my post, my name is Michael and I'm an American of Irish decent.
American first, my heritage is just that, my heritage.
Take care, be well and have a great day,
my fellow Americans !