License roadblock cleared for Oregon woman, 94

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Updated: September 11, 2013, 11:34 AM

 

GOLD HILL, Ore. — A 94-year-old Southern Oregon driver who had problems renewing her license because of anti-terror laws can now legally get behind the wheel after four months of uncertainty.

Helen Mary Thomas of Gold Hill was born in rural Tennessee, no doctor was present and no birth certificate was issued.

But since 2008, as a guard to prevent terrorists from getting phony IDs, the state of Oregon has been requiring drivers to prove citizenship to renew their licenses — generally by presenting a birth certificate or passport.

After Thomas couldn’t show she was a natural-born U.S. citizen, the Medford Mail Tribune published an account of her difficulty.

State transportation officials first issued a temporary license and then accepted Census records from 1930 and 1940, state voter registration records and her old driver’s license to prove citizenship, the paper reported Wednesday.

“Mom is back in good spirits,” said her son Douglas, who lives in Boise, Idaho. “She sounds like a huge, weighty concern has been lifted from her.”

Thomas is a widow — her husband of 46 years died 1996 — and none of her children live in the area. She told the Mail Tribune in July that she hopes to drive for another year.

“I drive a lot less now, but I’m still a good driver,” she said.

The state legislation followed the federal Real ID Act or 2005. The law was aimed at stopping terrorists from using illegally obtained driver’s licenses to access airports and government buildings.

Now that license renewals are on an eight-year cycle, Oregonians are beginning to confront the citizenship requirement, said David House, spokesman for the Driver and Motor Vehicles Services Division.

It is unusual for a natural-born U.S. citizen not to have a birth certificate, but the department tries to work with residents in such circumstances, he said.

Thomas is in the final steps of getting a delayed birth certificate from the state of Tennessee, her son said.