Five driver's license examiners suspended

Licenses allegedly sold to illegal immigrants

By CHRISTOPHER QUINN Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

The state Department of Motor Vehicle Safety has suspended five driver's license examiners in its Sandy Springs office as it investigates the alleged sale of as many as 400 licenses or identification cards to illegal immigrants.

State authorities also filed bribery charges against two people who acted as brokers between the immigrants and examiners, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detained one of the two for being in this country illegally, according to a DMVS spokeswoman.

The charges surfaced as the Georgia General Assembly considers two bills that call for granting driver's licenses or driving privileges to illegal immigrants. The legislation is opposed by some who say granting licenses opens the door to rights only citizens should have.

Tim Burgess, DMVS commissioner, said the supervisor in the Sandy Springs office became suspicious last October about the way some examiners were issuing licenses and ID cards. DMVS officers, Fulton County police detectives and INS agents began an undercover investigation.

Burgess said it appears the two people charged with bribery collected the money, steered illegal immigrants to certain examiners and later paid the examiners.

A DMVS spokesman identified the two arrested on bribery charges as Jorge E. Canote, 36, of Lawrenceville, and Julia L. Garcia, 47, a Mexican national living in Marietta.

Burgess declined to give the names of the suspended examiners because no charges had been filed against them and the state's investigation is incomplete. He said it is not clear how much the immigrants were being charged for the licenses, but it appears to have been a significant sum.

"I think we are talking about more than $100" per license, Burgess said.

As investigators determine which licenses and ID cards were issued to illegal immigrants, the documents will be declared invalid and put on a police watch list.

Burgess said he believes there is no evidence the illegal practice extended beyond the Sandy Springs office.

Rep. Barbara Mobley (D-Decatur), sponsor of a bill that would let illegal immigrants get a Georgia driver's license, said her legislation addresses a public safety issue. Without a license, a driver can't get insurance, she said, and that makes driving unsafe for all Georgians.

Teodoro Maus, the former Mexican consul who now oversees the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, said the immigrants are needed by employers, and it's hypocritical to deny the workers a way to drive legally to work.

Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm, opposes legalizing foreign drivers. He said a driver's license opens doors to rights that belong to citizens only, such as voting or obtaining public services.