Sunday, January 20, 2008

DHS, Motor Vehicles and You

Will this be a growing trend?

Homeland Security's watch list and DMV put Debbie Arthur through a nightmare
Cathy Benson
From Freedom's Phoenix

What happened to Blue Ridge resident Debbie Williams Arthur is one of those events you have nightmares over.

A couple of days before schools went on Christmas break, Williams—who teaches German at William Byrd High School—tried to get her vehicle decals online through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

She said she was rejected and told she had to go to a DMV office. She sent her husband Jimmy the next day, but he was informed she had to come in personally and was given a toll-free telephone number for her to call.

Arthur said her husband called her and gave her the number.

What happened next scared her very much, and many would think rightly so.

She was in a classroom with students she tutors after school when she made the call. The woman on the other end of the line called her a convicted felon and a fugitive.

Arthur tried to explain herself but the lady on the other end kept telling her she was a fugitive from Decatur, Ga. and she had to come into the DMV in Roanoke with identification.

Williams said the woman she spoke with was very aggressive towards her, but she learned her identification had been connected through Homeland Security to a Debra K. Williams, who apparently is a felon and fugitive from the law.

The next day was the first day out of school for Christmas break so Arthur took her birth certificate, marriage license, Social Security card and passport and, with a former student who rode with her, went to the Crossroads Mall DMV site in Roanoke.

The girl with Arthur attends the University of Southern California and had her driver’s license stolen in California.

Now, the plot thickens.

When Arthur arrived at the DMV she was told to wait and it would take 15 minutes to separate her information from the other person with the similar name, she said. Arthur waited one hour and was told there were problems.

The DMV had faxed her documents to Richmond and the computer override from Homeland Security would not allow the DMV to separate the two identities. Her 15 minutes turned into three and half hours.

In the course of those hours she spent at DMV, she learned the DMV system said she did not exist when her Social Security number was keyed into the agency’s system.

Arthur said her stress level increased with each piece of information DMV delivered.

Unbelievably, she said, they told her not to drive home because should she be stopped that the police would arrest her for being a fugitive.

She finally got a handwritten note from a DMV worker to give a policeman in case she got stopped.

“Imagine that,” said Arthur, “a handwritten note to convince a police officer that you were not a fugitive from the law. I left at 5:20 p.m. and the DMV closes at 4:30 p.m. and I was nervous on the drive home.”

She said she was told the DMV had an expert on her case in Richmond and she would get a call at 10 a.m. the next day. She waited and waited and no call came, so she called. “Still no progress,” she said she was told.

Finally, she went back to the DMV and eventually her identity was returned to her.

In the meantime she called Del. Lacey Putney, her representative in the Virginia House of Delegates, and he delivered some astounding news.

She said he told her of a glitch in the state computer system and that 1 out of 30 Virginians are either keyed in wrong or there is some other flaw in the system, and so problems can arise when the computers search for a match.

That is how Arthur was attached to the fugitive in Georgia—by the computer—and how she was connected to Homeland Security.

Being a teacher, she said she is well aware what the mistake could have done to her career.

While it is a state problem, the federal aspect made her call Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s office as well. Arthur said the congressman told his secretary it was not in his area of governance.

There’s more.

The former student who rode with Arthur to DMV hit a roadblock trying to get a duplicate driver’s license.

When her Social Security number was keyed into the system, she came up as a 40-year-old male Hispanic.

She had to call her mother to get all of her documents to prove who she was. That meant a return trip to the DMV after her mother faxed her those documents. She did get her identity straightened out in 15 minutes on her return to DMV, but Arthur said it sure felt like more than 1 in 30 was having difficulties that day.

“Something needs to be done. I could have been carted away by Homeland Security and the Patriotic Act,” said Arthur. “Del. Putney told me several horror stories about the situation that he is familiar with, and, well, I would not have gotten a complimentary phone call to tell my family where I was had I been stopped for a traffic infraction.”

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