Trey Capers is a United States citizen who moved to Juneau in 1980 after spending two years in the Air Force. He was 19 at the time. He drove a cab for more than twenty years, starting at a time when Alaska was flush with oil money. In 2001, a friend asked him if he was interested in driving a tour bus for Juneau Tours. Trey, who loves to drive, took him up on the offer and obtained his first Alaska commercial drivers license (CDL).
Trey drove a tour bus during the summer from 2001 to 2019. In 2008, he started driving a school bus during the winter months, and then started working as a Capital Transit bus driver for the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) in 2020. He had pursued the Capital Transit bus job for years because it offered good pay and benefits, and was thrilled to have finally landed the job.
Last week, Trey went to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Juneau to renew his CDL, just like he has done every five years since 2001. But he was told by DMV officials he could not renew it unless he provided his original naturalization document.
Trey, who was born in Spain in 1960, was adopted as a child by an American military couple. He was naturalized and became an American citizen, by order of a federal court in Florida, at the age of 2. He has been a United States citizen since 1962. He has a duplicate of his original naturalization document, but DMV says they require an original for a CDL renewal. The original was lost many decades ago by Trey’s parents, who are now deceased.
Trey’s predicament is the result of an Alaska law that directs the DMV to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005. But according to DMV’s website, REAL ID will not be enforced until May 3, 2023.
According to Alaska Statute Section 28.15.041, Classification of drivers’ licenses, section (e):
The state or a municipal government may not require a person to possess or use a driver’s license that is federally compliant unless the person is a state or municipal employee and the duties of the person’s job require the use of a driver’s license that is federally compliant.
Trey’s duties as a bus driver for the CBJ do not require him to drive on any military bases or other federal areas that require REAL ID. So according to the statute, DMV could renew Trey’s CDL.
Margaret Stock, a well-known immigration attorney in Anchorage, is representing Capers. When asked about Trey’s situation, Stock told the Landmine, “Trey is not the only Alaskan who is having trouble with the DMV right now. The Alaska DMV has been making it very difficult for many Alaskans who were born in foreign countries to get drivers’ licenses. DMV blames the Federal REAL ID law, but it’s really the Alaska laws and DMV’s interpretation of these laws that are to blame.” Stock added she now has a “booming business” helping Alaskans get their drivers’ licenses, thanks to the state laws interpreting REAL ID. “Before 9/11, people didn’t need an immigration lawyer to get a driver’s license in Alaska. Now they do,” says Stock.
Stock has filed an application with the US Department of Homeland Security to get a new naturalization certificate for Trey, but she says that can take a year to process. Trey can’t wait that long. He says CBJ has been accommodating, letting him use his leave until the situation gets resolved. But Trey only has about a month of leave, and it’s already been ten days.
During an interview with Trey this weekend at Heritage Coffee in Downtown Juneau, Trey was emotional while talking about the idea of losing his job. “They are trying to destroy my life, whether they realize it or not. And they don’t seem to care,” Capers said.
The REAL ID law was passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The law was supposed to stop terrorists from getting on airplanes. Today, however, it frequently prevents senior citizens and immigrants from getting their drivers’ licenses renewed.
Tim Howard, a fellow Capital Transit bus driver who also worked as a tour bus driver, has known Trey since the mid-1980s. He says Trey is “getting the shaft.” According to Howard, “Trey is a good person and hard worker. He drove a cab for my dad in the 1980s. It’s mind blowing that he can’t get his CDL renewed with the same paperwork he has used with DMV for the last twenty years. He uses his CDL for his livelihood,” Howard told the Landmine.
Tyson Gallagher, deputy chief of staff to Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) told the Landmine, “We should be focused on helping people resolve their issues rather than using process as a way to say no.” He says the administration is looking into the matter.
“I don’t know what I will do if I lose my job,” Trey told the Landmine.