E. Washington hungry for enhanced driver licenses

By Drew Foster, Herald staff writerJune 29, 2009 

KENNEWICK -- Bill Taylor spent about an hour and a half at the state Department of Licensing office in Kennewick one day last week waiting to get his enhanced driver's license.

He left empty-handed. And he wasn't alone.

The Department of Licensing has been flooded with Eastern Washington residents looking to get an enhanced driver's license or identification card, which, like a passport, allows American citizens to pass into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region at sea and land ports, but not airports. The enhanced driver's license and identification card have been available since January 2008.

Demand began surging in May, in anticipation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect June 1. It requires Americans to present travel documents such as a passport, NEXUS card, military ID, enhanced driver's license or enhanced ID when passing into and out of Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean region.

The enhanced cards require additional documentation. In their rush to get the card, many people show up at the Department of Licensing without the necessary paperwork, said Kennewick's District Manager Pamela Byrd said.

Sitting in the crowded Clearwater Avenue building, Taylor had his regular driver's license and Social Security card with him. It wasn't enough to get him an enhanced driver's license.

"I didn't get it," he said from home later that day.

Applicants must provide proof of U.S. citizenship, identity, Washington state residency, a Social Security number, and, if needed, proof of a name change, which includes marriage certificates and divorce decrees. All documents must be certified.

"We had one woman who was married five times," Byrd said, noting that the woman had to supply each marriage certificate and each divorce decree.

Kennewick's office is one of just three in Eastern Washington offering the enhanced driver's license, said Selena Davis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Licensing. The others are in Wenatchee and north Spokane.

In 2009, between January and May, the Kennewick office issued 1,233 enhanced driver's licenses. Between May and June 25, the office issued about 1,500.

"We've seen a huge increase," Byrd said.

More than 70,000 have been issued throughout the state, including about 10,000 in May alone.

Byrd encourages people interested in getting the enhanced driver's license to visit www.dol.wa.gov before going to the Department of Licensing so they can be sure they have the correct documents with them.

"We really encourage people to read the whole section on getting the enhanced driver's license," she said.

Once the wait is over, Byrd said customers can expect the process of getting the enhanced card to take about 40 minutes. It includes the initial intake, where customers provide basic information, and the approval phase, where customers submit to a more rigorous interview.

"It's a check and balance," Byrd said of the process.

Once the process is complete, Byrd said the customer is issued a temporary enhanced card while the actual one is being mailed. The temporary cannot be used to cross borders. She encouraged people interested in getting the enhanced driver's license to show up no later than early afternoon, so they can be at the counter by 3 p.m.

Judy Bareither, who also spent about 90 minutes at the Department of Licensing earlier this week, did her homework before making the trip. With all the necessary documents in hand, she walked out of the building with a temporary enhanced driver's license.

Taylor, on the other hand, isn't jumping at the chance to spend more time waiting for another shot to get the enhanced card.

"I'm in no hurry," he said.

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