State prepares for immigrant driver's licenses

Associated Press
Updated 10/9/2013 8:09 AM

Illinois' secretary of state's office is preparing to launch a massive effort that gives as many as 250,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally permission to drive.

In January, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's license law that supporters touted as a public safety issue as well as an important step for immigrant rights. Ten months later, the state is in the final stages of the process and will begin roll out the new licenses in December.

That's when people will be able to have application appointments at one of 25 designated locations across Illinois, according to a report in The (Aurora) Beacon-News

"This is our No. 1 priority right now in our office," said Tom Benigno, chief of staff to Secretary of State Jesse White.

To prepare, the department is holding a series of workshops -- often in Spanish -- to explain details of the program.

The license will let an estimated 250,000 people unlawfully residing in the state apply for a three-year temporary driver's license and require them to get training and insurance.

The licenses will be like those already issued to certain foreign-born, legal visitors.

Applicants will be photographed, and their photo will be entered into the state's facial recognition database -- like the rest of Illinois' licensed drivers -- to verify their identity. The license, which will have a blue background instead of the standard red one, can't be used to vote, work, get through airport security or buy a gun. People who apply will have to have lived in the state for at least a year and pay $30 fee while also passing a written exam and a road test.

But officials know that there will be concerns -- from critics who say it could lead to fraud to immigrants themselves.

"We won't share your information with immigration," Ernesto Martinez, a spokesman for the state agency, told a crowd of 50 people during a recent workshop in Aurora.

The state says it can issue about 106,000 of the documents a year.

Aurora resident Maria Juana Martinez says she's eager to get one.

"It's going to be such a benefit to drive my daughter to school," she said.

People will be able to start requesting appointments in November, but won't be able to go to the Secretary of State's office until December.

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