Invisible Citizens - Thousands In SC Living With No Photo ID -

Invisible Citizens - Thousands In SC Living With No Photo ID

By Tracey Early

Many of us take it for granted but couldn't function without it. Thousands of South Carolinians don't have a valid photo ID, meaning they can't drive, sign up for utilities, rent an apartment and now, vote in South Carolina.

And in many cases, they have to rely on government assistance to live, impacting all of us.

For 53-year-old Thomas Garcia, living in a hotel room with his wife and newborn son is a good as it gets. It’s in walking distance to his job at a truck stop in Duncan, making just enough to pay the weekly room rate and not much else.

Thomas doesn't have a valid photo ID so he can't drive, can't get a better paying job and can't rent a bigger place.

“It has not been living,” said Thomas. “It's been an existence and only barely that.”

Thomas Garcia can't get a South Carolina driver’s license because his birth certificate says Thomas Barger, a last name he hasn't gone by in 50 years.

“My mother moved to Southern California, met a gentleman named Garcia who I know as my one and only father,” said Thomas. “And in 1963 to be part of the family, I started going by Garcia.”

Because he goes by Garcia, the state of South Carolina considers the birth certificate invalid.

In Laurens, Gaye Wynn’s 94-year-old grandmother, Frances Smith, also had trouble getting an ID. She was born in 1919, which was documented in a family bible that was lost in a fire. Frances later got a birth certificate in the 60s from the state of Georgia but says the South Carolina DMV told her it wasn't valid.

“I love my state, but it seems like South Carolina's making this difficult,” said Gaye.

Sue Berkowitz, Director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, deals with issues like this. She says many people simply don't have the means to get a valid ID.

“It's often elderly people, low income people and folks who we would think of as more as disenfranchised,” said Berkowitz. “And it's cyclical. It may be you need to get that job so you have enough money so you can get down to the DMV so you can get yourself that ID.”

South Carolina DMV Director Kevin Shwedo told us, in this post 9-11 world, making exceptions is not an option, even if the federal government recognizes you.

“Number one, we use the same criteria that every state in the nation uses when it comes to identification,” said Shwedo. “Number two, the requirements to obtain a social security are not as stringent as they are to get an identification card.”

We also asked Shwedo about Thomas Garcia’s case.

“He's not going to like what I've got to say. But when you change your name on your own volition, it doesn't have any validity in the court system,” said Shwedo.

The solution: a legal name change. But Thomas can't afford it.

The Spartanburg County Clerk of Court told us, low income folks can file a motion to get the $150 filing fee waived.

That leaves $25 needed for a required criminal background check. We went to the Salvation Army of Spartanburg, who agreed to help by giving Thomas a check to cover the cost. Once he’s able to legally change his name, he’ll be able to finally get a license.

As for Gaye Wynn’s grandmother, Frances; she had to order a new birth certificate from Georgia. And after several trips to her local DMV, Frances was able to get her South Carolina ID with the help of her family.

Thomas was able to get a driver's license in another state. Shwedo told us because all 50 states now use the same criteria, that would only happen if another state took a short-cut or if the ID was issued before September 11th, 2001.

If you're having trouble getting a South Carolina issued-ID, the DMV says the first thing you should do is call the customer service line at: (803) 896-5000 or visit your local DMV office.

If you don’t have a valid birth certificate, you can try ordering one through VitalChek. It’s a service that can verify your identity by having you answer a series of questions. You can order online, or by calling 877-284-1008.

For a list of what’s needed if you need to get a new South Carolina ID, click here.

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