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NEW JERSEY DMV: INS failed to probe applicants



Published: Sat, September 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The INS said federal privacy laws prevented it from cooperating with the state officials.

By JIM GERAGHTY

STATES NEWS SERVICE.

WASHINGTON -- Weeks before two men with New Jersey driver's licenses crashed an American Airlines jet into the World Trade Center, the state Division of Motor Vehicles had complained that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was not cooperating with investigations of suspicious applications for licenses.

The INS said that a federal privacy law prevented the agency from providing personal information to state motor vehicle division officials.

Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari were aboard the first hijacked flight, which crashed into the North Tower, and were believed to be carrying New Jersey driver's licenses.

Suspicions: In the past year, employees at the state DMV had noticed several suspicious patterns among applicants for new driver's licenses. Some applicants were using fake addresses, while other groups of new applicants -- six and seven at a time -- were using identical addresses. Applicants were also using green cards and other immigration identification papers that aroused suspicion.

Foreign citizens who wish to get a driver's license in New Jersey are required to show proof that the INS has authorized their presence in the United States. However, to deny the applicant his or her license, the state DMV has to prove that the documentation is false or forged.

Changed policy: Two years ago, INS changed its policy about confirming immigrant and alien documentation, in response to a federal privacy protection law. The law banned personal information about aliens from being given out over the phone.

INS officials said they would not be able to verify that a person asking for the information was a Division of Motor Vehicles employee.

When asked about the DMV complaints Friday, Kerry Gill, a spokesman for the Newark office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the office was still examining the problem and would have a better answer to the inquiry next week.

But officials at the national headquarters of the Immigration and Naturalization Service said they had no knowledge of any complaints with their New Jersey offices.




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