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updated: 12/4/2013 8:22 AM

Illinois begins license exams for immigrants

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Associated Press

Illinois is beginning to let immigrants apply for a driver's license if they're living in the U.S. illegally.

Appointments began Tuesday for people hoping to take the driver's license test, which is offered at two sites in Chicago and Springfield. Four locations will offer the license exams by the end of the month, and the Illinois Secretary of State's office says three dozen will offer the exams in January.

So far, more than 5,500 people have scheduled appointments to take the exams, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

But the rollout of the pilot program will begin slowly. The first two Secretary of State facilities administering the test will only take six appointments a day, a figure that will increase dramatically as the program continues. Tests can only be taken when they're scheduled in advance.

"We'd much rather do this slowly and deliberately pace this out so we are doing it right by January," said Lisa Grau, manager of the Secretary of State's Temporary Visitor Driver's License program. "Please be patient."

The licenses, which cost $30, are valid for three years and may be used only for driving. They cannot be used as identification to board a plane, vote or buy a firearm. Unlike a standard driver's license, which has a red stripe across the top and may be renewed every four years, the temporary visitor licenses have a purple stripe. License holders must reapply as a new applicant after three years.

And like traditional licenses, each motorist will need to pass a vision, written and driving test and be required to obtain auto insurance.

Critics say the state should be cracking down on immigrants who broke the law by entering the country illegally, not accommodating them or making Illinois a more attractive place for them to live. They also say there's a potential for identity fraud because applicants won't be fingerprinted. Instead, a photo of the applicant will be processed through a state facial recognition database.

Immigrant rights groups that pushed for the bill opposed fingerprinting because they said it could discourage people from applying, for fear their information would be turned over to federal immigration authorities.

Authorities have said as many as 250,000 people could apply in the first two years.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation allowing the licenses in January, after the Legislature approved it with bipartisan support.

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