Face to Face: A Conversation with Jorge Lomonaco
The foreign service officer from Mexico discusses efforts to grant undocumented people in Florida a driver's permit.

Q. You fell short this past session. What is the status? Will you try again?

A. It's up to the proponents -- [Miami Republican] Senator [Rudy] Garcia in the Senate, and I understand there was a sponsor also from the House, [Miami Republican] Gustavo Barreiro, but the discussion never reached the [House] So it's up to them. We are only observers of the proposals and we will be following closely whether Sen. Garcia or Rep. Barreiro introduces the same legislation or different legislation.

Q. The legislation called for a driver's permit, not a license. What's the difference?

A. The proposal that was sponsored by these two legislators was that foreign nationals could apply for a driving permit, which would be limited to two years. It could be extended for additional periods, if I remember correctly. And that would be only for driving, valid only in Florida, and it would not serve as a seed document for additional IDs. My understanding is that the proposal, the creation of this new driving permit for foreigners, was a way to meet the concerns of those who believe that there is a risk in issuing drivers' licenses to foreigners because the driver's license has become, in the U.S., in general, not necessarily in Florida, a way to gain access to other kinds of documentation

Q. What is the benefit?

A. The idea was to solve the issue of driving in Florida with adequate documentation So, why not issue a driving permit to solve the inconsistencies and the problems deriving from application of the law?

Q. And what are those problems specifically?

A. The current situation has these three or four inconsistencies that are of concern. The first problem is that since the current situation has not prevented those who have no driver's license from driving, there are large numbers of people who are driving without drivers' licenses. That, in itself, creates at least two problems. First, they are driving without the adequate driving skills. They are not forced to pass the driving tests that all those who get a driver's license need to pass. So there is no way to assure that they know the rules and that they have the skills, which creates a safety issue. As many of your readers can see, there are drivers who are a safety hazard.

The second problem is that those same drivers do not have insurance. The result of that is that we -- you, I and everybody who is driving and is insured in this state -- are paying between 8 and 13 percent, according to some estimates, on top of what we should pay because we are paying for, in our premiums, for those who are not insured.

Q. One of the skepticisms raised about this legislation is: How do you know the persons getting permits are who they say they are?

A. One of the ideas behind this proposal was to engage the foreign consulates in helping the authorities to determine that this person applying for a driving permit is "Juan Perez" and that he is in fact a Mexican. That each one of the consulates should assist in confirming the identity and the nationality of the applicant.

Q. Are you prepared to do that?

A. We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to help the authorities and to help our community in solving one of the major day-to-day nightmares for them, which is not being able to drive regularly with proper documentation.

Q. And the documentation would be good enough to ascertain that, in fact, Juan Perez is Juan Perez?

A. I can speak only for Mexico. With the consular ID we can confirm, first of all, that the person is who he says he is, or she says she is. We can also confirm that he or she is Mexican. And now that we have a common centralized database, we can confirm whether this person has or has not previously applied for the consular ID elsewhere in the United States. And also we can confirm whether this person is subject to a criminal investigation, or not, in Mexico.

Q. A concern about these permits is that they could hand a driver's permit, a form of status, to terrorists. Is this a justifiable concern?

A. Again, I can only speak on behalf of Mexico. I don't think those concerns are justified in the case of Mexican nationals. Why? Because of how much we have improved our consular ID. Second, let me share a recent story. During the discussion of these proposals, I was asked by someone whether or not an employee of the consulate would be subject to a bribe or anything for someone who doesn't fulfill the requirements, to get the consular ID And I responded that I would never think that anyone whose career is on the line -- at least half of my personnel are career officers and they have a 30-, 40-year career on the line -- no one will risk that career for $30, $40, $50, $100, whatever amount. No one will put his or her job on the line for that amount.

Because that's what we're talking about. That's the kind of problem we face everyday. Migrant workers -- they could be either Mexicans who cannot fulfill the requirements because they could not get ahold of their birth certificate in Mexico because they left Mexico many years ago, or because they are from a small village in the mountains and it's really hard for them to get their birth certificate, or because they cannot prove they have a permanent address here -- I would never imagine them thinking of bribing a Mexican officer in the consulate. Or you're talking about the Central American or South American who, for whatever reason, decided they would try to pose as a Mexican, would be in the same situation as a Mexican migrant working. It's hard to imagine.