New home, new identity brings months of red tape

Investigations

6 on Your Side Investigation: Name change request denied

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A young man from the Middle East who lives here in East Tennessee is having trouble getting his driver’s license because of an extra step he says the state is making him take that he believes isn’t required.

Because of persecution in his home country, he was granted asylum status here in the United States. He has a new identity, a new name – but not for his driver’s license.

The work permit he holds shows his birth name, and it has to be changed. For people who come to America legally, there is a lot of red tape with many forms to fill out.

The state of Tennessee is required to follow federal immigration rules and standards. The man who called WATE 6 On Your Side says the state is making him take an extra step which he believes is not required.

He is a law-abiding foreign national with a temporary Tennessee driver’s license. However, to comply with the law, under the circumstances he relies on his friend Jennifer Sparks to drive him around.

For nearly two months, he’s been been riding with Sparks.

Habib is his Egyptian birth name. He asked that we not reveal his last name or show his face. Recently, he applied for a permanent driver’s license, but hit a snag with the Department of Safety.

“It’s because I changed my name legally,” Habib says. “All I want is to have my driving license and have my name on it.”

Habib says he was persecuted by his own people after the Arab Spring uprising in his home country in 2011. Sparks met Habib in 2009 in Egypt, when she was visiting and hired Habib as a guide. They’ve been friends ever since.

“He’s a Christian. I’m a Christian. I felt comfortable with him. From the beginning, I knew he’s an honest guy,” Sparks says of Habib.

In June 2018, Habib was granted asylum by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s in America legally holding an Employment Authorization Document, or work permit. Here is where the story becomes complicated.

In May, Habib legally changed his name to Daniel Caleb. He received a social security card under his new American name. But, the Tennessee Department of Safety says in order to get his permanent driver’s license, Habib needs to have his old name changed, to his new one on the work permit.

“The state wants me to change my work authorization,” Habib told WATE 6 On Your Side.

But – changing your name on the work authorization isn’t necessary, according to Habib, because the Tennessee law and the rules of the Department of Motor and Safety says all a person needs to change their name is a court order, sealed and stamped.

“…Which I have. This one is only issue for you to work. It has nothing to do with a driving license,” Habib says. “As soon as they looked at the work authorization, they told me immediately you need to change your name here before you change your license. So now my argument with them is — that’s not according to the law.”

On behalf of Habib, the Tennessee Department of Safety explained to WATE 6 On Your Side that under a relatively new federal program called S.A.V.E., the Immigration Service’s Verification Process requires Habib to update his work permit to reflect his new name before he is granted a driver’s license.

He already meets the other requirements — new Social Security card, legal change of name. The license bureau says he needs to take that next step. If he wants to drive with a permanent license, the cost for that new work permit with the change-of-name is $500.

“I want him to get his legal name on his driver’s license. For him to be able to start his life here in peace because he deserves it,” Sparks said. “I feel really bad for him. I feel ashamed. I know when I want to his country how I was treated — very well. I feel like, here, he doesn’t get the same thing.”

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