CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Brigid Miles has had a driver’s license for 26 years in her home country of Ireland. But getting her license in New Hampshire turned out to be more difficult than she expected.

Miles found she had much in common with immigrants from Africa and South America, who joined her in testifying before lawmakers Friday about their frustrations in getting licenses to drive.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules is reviewing new rules proposed by the state Division of Motor Vehicles. The proposed rules would codify current practices that require non-citizens to come to Concord rather than the nearest satellite office to obtain or renew their drivers’ licenses.

The proposed rules also leave vague what documents satisfy a requirement to prove residency in the state. Sheri Kelloway, who helped write the proposed rules, said this was to allow for flexibility, but immigrants said it only led to confusion.

“I have a friend who’s come four times and every time they needed something different,” said Eva Castillo, who was raised in Venezuela but has lived in the United States for most of her adult life.

Motor Vehicles Director Virginia Beecher said the requirement that non-citizens come to Concord means they get better service. It was not a response to fears about terrorism, she said.

Employees at the satellite offices don’t necessarily have the training to understand Visas and work permits that immigrants present, she said.

In addition, the time it takes to process an immigrant’s application led to long delays for other customers at the small satellite offices, she said. After hearing complaints, she said the division began requiring non-citizens to come to Concord.

Immigrants and their advocates testified about the challenges of getting to Concord in a state with little public transportation.

“You have to lose a whole day of work, or get behind the wheel and hope a cop doesn’t catch you,” Castillo said.

Though she’s been a legal resident for years and is about to get citizenship, she said she still has to come to Concord to get her license renewed.

Seifu Ragassa, a refugee from Ethiopia who lives in Laconia, said it would be much easier for immigrants to get to satellite offices near their homes. Those who need a ride or a friend to interpret can more easily get the help they need, he said.

“I do not see the point of making a refugee take a bus to Concord when he or she can be served in home town,” he said.

Visiting scholars, students and researchers at colleges and universities around the state also face similar difficulties, said Kenneth Reade, of Dartmouth College. The requirement that they travel to Concord to get their drivers licenses is a “tremendous inconvenience professionally and personally,” he said.

The requirement may be unconstitutional as well, according a statement from New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

The state and federal constitution gives equal protection to both citizens and non-citizens here legally. Placing burdensome requirements on one group and not the other may violate the law.

Lawmakers will continue the public hearing on the proposed rules on June 4.

AP-ES-05-21-04 1447EDT



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