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Law

Journalist in US illegally obtained Wash. driver license

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Pulitzer prize winning journalist who is in this country illegally managed to obtain a Washington driver license – even though he doesn't live in Washington. How did he do it?

This week in the New York Times Magazine, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed himself as an illegal immigrant from the Philippines. Part of his story involves obtaining a Washington driver license earlier this year – even though he doesn't reside in the state.

Washington is one of two states that doesn't require proof of lawful presence in the country to get a driver license. But Washington does have a residency requirement.

So how did Vargas make it past that screening? Because, says Christine Anthony with Washington's Department of Licensing, he provided a valid Social Security number – one he admits he obtained fraudulently years ago.

"If someone already has a valid driver license from another state and a valid Social Security number and they come in and say that they're moving to this state and provide us an address that checks out," Anthony said, "then we assume that they're living here."

Licensing says because of staff limitations it focuses on the highest risk group for residency fraud – applicants without a Social Security number.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.