HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed legal briefs yesterday in a Pennsylvania appeals court on behalf of six South American immigrants and Philadelphia residents who seek to keep their driver's licenses. In 2009 the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) attempted to revoke the licenses because the individuals used tax identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers in their applications. Pennsylvania law does not require non-citizens to have a Social Security number to obtain a license.

"These people followed Pennsylvania law and should be allowed to keep their licenses," said Valerie Burch, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "By cancelling their licenses, PennDOT forces people to the fringes of society, interferes with their ability to work, and makes everyday tasks insurmountable."

Their ordeal began in May 2009, when PennDOT notified more than 2000 people that their driver's licenses would be cancelled on June 19, 2009, because their Social Security numbers could not be verified. Following instructions from PennDOT employees, all six had presented tax identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers when they applied for their licenses between 1999 and 2001. The IRS issues tax identification numbers to non-citizens who do not qualify for Social Security benefits and cannot obtain a Social Security number.

Six immigrants, Jesse Latorre, Pedro A. Camargo, Juan William Posada, Juan Carlos Ramirez, Sandra L. Gonzalez and Maria P. Serna-Deandrade, successfully represented themselves in the Court of Common Pleas, which issued a ruling on March 26, 2010 prohibiting PennDOT from canceling their licenses. PennDOT appealed the decision, and the six are now represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and volunteer attorney Thomas B. Schmidt, III of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

"This appeal isn't just for we who are still fighting," said driver Juan William Posada. "We want the court to create jurisprudence for the 1,994 other people whose licenses were unfairly taken."

In its brief, the ACLU argues that the drivers' licenses were issued lawfully and that PennDOT may not revoke driver's licenses without giving drivers an opportunity to contest the cancellation. Although the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 requires driver's license applicants to provide a Social Security number or Social Security Administration waiver demonstrating ineligibility for a Social Security number, Pennsylvania's legislature has not passed any of the REAL ID provisions. In June, the Pennsylvania Senate passed 50-0 a bill prohibiting PennDOT from implementing REAL ID. Because REAL ID is a federal law and states have exclusive control over driver licensing, REAL ID has no effect unless the states adopt its provisions. Many states have resisted this due to the high costs of implementation.

All six have applied for adjustment of their immigration status with the US Citizenship & Immigration Service, a process that can take years.

The consolidated cases are Serna-Deandrade, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Driver Licensing, Nos. 565, 568-70, 572-73 C.D. 2010 (Pa. Commw. Ct. filed April 5, 2010).

  • More information, including copies of the ACLU-PA brief and the decision of the Court of Common Pleas