In July 2004, Tennessee was the first state to offer this driving certificate for illegal immigrants (created in 2004 to satisfy homeland security concerns while allowing illegal immigrants to drive with certified proficiency).
And even though it's not valid as a form of identification, people are paying hundreds of dollars on the black market and traveling hundreds of miles to get one.
According to the AP, two major federal arrests in recent months exposed shuttles bringing South and Central American immigrants from as far away as New Jersey to state licensing centers in Knoxville, where the immigrants got certificates using fake residency papers.
It also reported that, last week, a third sweep revealed an alleged conspiracy in which prosecutors say state license examiners in Murfreesboro, outside Nashville, accepted bribes to provide illegal immigrants with driver's licenses and certificates without testing.
The disclosures come as Tennessee's certificate system is being studied as a possible model for handling "non-conforming drivers" under the Real ID program recently enacted by Congress that will set a national standard for driver's licenses by 2008.
Lawyer Mike Whalen, who represents a woman accused of bringing as many as 100 immigrants from New Jersey to Knoxville for certificates, said the government is making too much of the problem. His client represented workers, not terrorists, he said.
"Somebody went through the roof and said, 'Remember 9-11, every one had driver's
licenses,'" he said. "Well, none of these Mexican immigrants are in flight
school anywhere. There is a difference."