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The morning of Friday, May 2, Andre Banks had his bags packed for a business trip to Atlanta when he figured out he couldn’t go. “I lost my driver’s license in February and my passport the end of March, beginning of April,” he says. “I woke up the morning of the trip and realized, I have no ID.”
Banks, 24, had moved to the District from Columbus, Ohio, in September 2000. His car was stolen soon after he arrived, so he gave up driving and ignored the District’s requirement that new residents register with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 30 days.
With a flight scheduled for 4 p.m., he assumed that he had enough documentation to get a D.C. identification card to replace his missing Ohio license. “I had my birth certificate, social security card, a cable bill, and the lease for my house,” Banks says. “I should be able to go down to the DMV and get an ID card, right?”
At the downtown DMV, he learned that wasn’t the case. “The woman there tells me that I can’t even get a state I.D. card without my Ohio license or driving record,” he says. “I asked her ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘That’s just what we do.’ So I leave empty-handed.”
Banks missed his flight to Atlanta, and with another work-related trip to Chicago scheduled for May 16, he knew he needed to get some sort of ID fast or risk losing his job with a local nonprofit organization.
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“I started investigating all of the different ways I could get an ID card,” he says. “One, I get a new passport; two, I get a copy of my Ohio driving record and go back to the D.C. DMV; three, I go to Ohio and get another license; or, four, I get a D.C. license starting from scratchtake the test, everything.”
Banks soon found that almost none of his options were viable. “I realized there was no way to take the written test, schedule the driving test, and get a D.C. license in two weeks,” he says. “And I still needed my Ohio driving record to maintain my identity from one state to the next.”
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) told Banks that it usually takes two weeks to process a request for a state driving record and another week to mail out the results. But the bureau could expedite the process and release the records to his mother in personif she could present a notarized consent form from her son.
Banks says he got the form and filled it out, but no one would notarize itbecause he didn’t have valid ID. “They just laughed at me,” he says. “I told them, ‘I need it so I can get an ID!’ They basically said, ‘We understand your situation, but we’re not doing it.’”
The Ohio BMV then agreed to send a copy of Banks’ driving record via fax. There was only one problemthe D.C. DMV doesn’t accept faxed copies. “They said, ‘We only take originals,’ so I’m screwed again,” Banks says.
Thwarted by the DMV, Banks decided to forget the District ID card and try to get a passport. But he could only apply for an expedited passport if he had an international travel itinerary. Chicago wouldn’t cut it.
“So, at this point, I’ve been completely foiled by the D.C. DMV, the notaries, Ohio BMV, and the passport people,” Banks recalls. “I realize there’s only one thing left to dogo to Ohio.”
Without ID, though, he couldn’t take a plane, a train, or rent an automobile. He ended up at the Greyhound bus station, and even the bus company nearly prevented him from boarding because of his inability to prove his identity. “I happened to have an old picture ID from my old job, and still I had to convince the guy: ‘I’m going to Ohio to get an IDplease!’ I guess the desperation in my eyes swayed him.”
“My bus left at midnight,” Banks continues. “And up until 11:30, I was still sitting in the bus station trying to think of a solutionsomething to keep me from having to get on that bus.”
After an eight-hour bus trip to Ohio, an hour’s wait in the Ohio BMV, and another eight-hour trip back to D.C., Banks finally had the ID he needed to travel to his conference and keep his job. The ordeal left him disgusted. “If the DMVs want to tie your existence from one state to another, why don’t they have some sort of common communication system?” he says.
Regina Williams, spokesperson for the DMV, apologizes for Banks’ troubles on the D.C. end, but says that clerks likely turned him away because it is illegal to hold a current ID from two jurisdictions, whether one has been lost or not.
Had Banks asked to speak to someone higher up in the DMV, Williams says, he might have been able to avoid his bus ride: “If he talked to a manager, they could have worked with him and made an exception. Generally, we don’t accept faxes, and front desk employees are not able to say, ‘Well, Mr. Banks, you have your birth certificate and checks with your address on them, so, for you, I’ll make an exception.’”
Williams also says that if Banks had gotten a D.C. license when he first moved to the city, he may have had an easier time. “We have photo technology now, where we can pull up your picture and verify that you are who you say you are if you’ve lost everything,” says Williams. “I hate to say that if he had followed the regs he wouldn’t lose an ID, or find himself in that situation, but it does make it easier.”
Banks says the brief experience of having no identity made him wonder what good all the restrictions really do. “A while before this happened,” he says, “someone stole my wallet and used my credit cards at five different places. It’s so much easier to pretend you’re someone else than to prove that you’re yourself.” CP