A federal crackdown on fraud at state motor vehicle departments -- including Florida's-- across the country has nabbed more than a dozen illegal immigrants licensed to transport hazardous materials.
While none of those apprehended has any known links to terrorism, federal agents said Thursday that the recent busts have revealed a significant threat to homeland security.
In one case, a Pakistani man ordered to leave the United States nine years ago was instead driving a tanker truck filled with gasoline for Exxon.
"This is a national security issue," said Elissa Brown, the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office in Chicago, where six men were taken into custody.
"Illegal aliens should not have the freedom to transport hazardous materials throughout the United States," Brown said.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun deportation proceedings against the six illegal immigrants in Chicago, who had obtained commercial drivers' licenses that allowed them to carry hazardous materials. The men are from Belize, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia and the Philippines.
In Baltimore, a federal grand jury this week indicted Mansoor Hassan on six counts of making false statements about his citizenship, according to court documents. In 1996, a U.S. immigration judge ordered Hassan to leave the country.
He didn't and later got a Maryland commercial driver's license. Hassan drove tanker trucks for three different oil companies before federal authorities caught up with him, they said.
In Florida, more than 100 people have been arrested since late April -- including three Florida motor vehicle department employees -- for distributing some 2,000 drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants as part of massive fraud ring.
Thirteen of them were hazardous material commercial drivers' licenses, officials said. Some of those arrested had been convicted on weapons or drug charges or for reckless driving.
Many states have strengthened their hazardous materials license screening since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, state laws remain inconsistent and Customs say it remains relatively easy to obtain fraudulent documents that can be used to get a driver's license.
Eighteen of the 19 hijackers in those attacks had valid drivers' licenses or state-issued identification cards.
Earlier this year, President Bush signed a law that requires all driver's license applicants to provide proof of citizenship or legal residency. States have three years to comply.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, said other driver's license fraud investigations are ongoing.