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Complaints over licensing delays spur N.H. governor's review

CONCORD, N.H. -- Governor John Lynch is reviewing policies at the Division of Motor Vehicles after hearing complaints from residents who have faced frustrating delays when applying for licenses.

One woman was told she was a foreigner because she was born on a US Air Force base in the Philippines. Another spent an entire day getting her son a non-driver's ID, because the motor vehicles clerk wouldn't accept a birth certificate copy and the vital records staff wouldn't issue another original without a photo ID.

Lynch plans to meet with officials from the Department of Safety, which oversees the division, and the attorney general's office as soon as possible.

"He believes people should be treated in a nondiscriminatory manner," said Lynch's spokeswoman, Pamela Walsh.

Getting a driver's license has become harder for many residents since the division implemented a policy that requires all noncitizens to apply in Concord, not one of the 18 substations scattered across the state. A handful of immigrant rights groups are protesting the rule, calling it discriminatory, inconvenient, and unfair.

Lifelong Americans also are finding themselves lost in a maze of security precautions and confusing requirements.

The most common complaints deal with birth certificates. The state's administrative rules require applicants to provide "positive proof of identification," including an original or certified copy of their birth certificate and a passport, current driver's license, military discharge papers, permanent resident card, or military identification card. The division's website also offers a list of acceptable identifying documents, but some applicants say it's unclear what combination is necessary for a successful application. Others report that different clerks interpret the rules differently, refusing to accept copies or requiring birth certificates for license renewals or address changes.

"All we wanted was a non-driver's ID so he could get into the movies," said Linda Statchen of Weare, who spent a day over Christmas vacation getting identification for her 17-year-old son. "It took hours to accomplish a simple errand."

Joe Russell says his girlfriend also ran into identification troubles, although she was armed with everything the division recommends: her old license from Massachusetts, two utility bills, her car registration, and a birth certificate. But she was born on the Subic Bay US military base in the Philippines, so the DMV deemed her a foreigner. "They directed her to a foreigners' line," Russell wrote in an e-mail to the Concord Monitor. "After 45 minutes of arguing with the DMV, we convinced them that a US Air Force base is considered American soil."

Virginia Beecher, director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, didn't return phone calls seeking comment on the policies.

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