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Kadner: A Catch-22 in driver’s license bill

FILE - In this Jan. 7 2013 file phosupporters granting illegal immigrants drivers licenses cheer after House committee hearing Illinois

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2013 file photo, supporters of granting illegal immigrants drivers licenses cheer after a House committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. The House passed the legislation Jan. 8 and Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the legislation Sunday, Jan. 27. As Illinois becomes the fourth and most populous state to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, the initiative is still nagged by concerns it has enough safeguards to avoid the identity fraud and other pitfalls faced by the three other states with similar laws. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:13AM



Illegal immigrants may be allowed to get a special driver’s license under a new law, but the Illinois secretary of state’s office is still trying to figure out how the program is actually going to work.

“How the heck do they (people in the country illegally) prove they’re ineligible to receive a Social Security card?” asked reader Dean Cashman, of Worth.

That’s one of the requirements to obtain a temporary visitor driver’s license, and Cashman’s question seemed like a valid one to me.

“There are already more than 15,000 people in Illinois driving on a temporary visitor’s license,” said Dave Drucker, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White. “But those licenses were issued to people who entered the country legally, people who may be students or visiting professors or maybe IT people brought in here by a company to work for a few months.

“In the past, there is a process by which the Social Security Administration has issued some sort of verification that they are ineligible for a Social Security number.”

But how would someone who is illegal establish that?

Do they write a letter saying, “Dear Social Security official, I am here illegally and would like you to verify that so that I can drive legally in Illinois?”

Drucker admitted the process is not clear.

“That’s why the law gives us 10 months to work out the kinks,” he said.

The standard driver’s license looks different than the temporary license. The standard license has a red strip at the top; the temporary one would have a purple strip.

In addition, the words “Not Valid For Identification” would appear on the temporary license.

The license could not be used to obtain a firearm owner’s ID card or to board an airplane, apparently a key point with federal officials fighting terrorists.

As I understand it, three other states have laws that permit illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses — Washington, New Mexico and Utah.

Washington and New Mexico, I am told, issue licenses to illegals that are virtually indistinguishable from those issued to other people. Utah’s is different.

Why issue driver’s licenses to people in this country illegally?

“There are one-quarter of a million undocumented drivers on the road in Illinois,” Drucker said. “That’s the fact. These are people who have not passed a driver’s test and do not have insurance.”

The new law would require illegal immigrants to pass a driver’s exam and provide proof they have insurance. Could they do that without an understanding of the English language?

“We already provide the driver’s license exam in multiple languages,” Drucker said. “Traffic signs are universal. They can be understood in any language.”

But what about street signs? Cashman wondered how people would know where they are going if they could not read a street sign in English.

“They’re already on the road,” Drucker said.

Fred Tsao, policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, laughed when I asked him the street-sign question.

“Ashland is Ashland, and immigrants can understand what that sign says,” Tsao chuckled. “They do it every day.”

But Tsao also admitted that the language regarding proof of not having a Social Security number was confusing and didn’t know how it would work.

Illinois would require that undocumented immigrants appear at one of eight motor vehicle facilities for a photograph that would be scanned into a nationwide system to determine if a person is on a terrorist watch list or wanted for a crime.

But there are those in law enforcement who claim that Illinois should require fingerprinting for a more thorough criminal background check.

Drucker emphasized that the new process would in no way impede services for Illinois residents seeking a driver’s license because it would be restricted to those eight centers where staff would be trained in dealing with the undocumented aliens. He said there might ultimately be more than eight locations, based on demand, but that has yet to be determined.

Illinois also requires that illegal immigrants submit proof they have lived in the state for more than a year. That documentation could include a lease, utility bills or school records.

A lack of such proof has apparently resulted in allegations of fraud in New Mexico and Washington, D.C., where multiple people listed one address as a residence even though they did not live there.

One story said the secretary of state would mail licenses to the drivers’ addresses, but it seems to me that can result in the same type of fraud alleged in other states.

“We are considering perhaps having the people return in person to the DMV offices to pick up their license,” Drucker said. “We’re still working on all these details.”

Would someone in the U.S. illegally apply for a license or purchase car insurance?

“They would if they were worried about being deported because of a speeding violation or because they were involved in a fender-bender,” Tsao said. “That happens to people all the time in this country.

“They drive, but they live in fear of being involved in a minor traffic altercation that results in them being forced to leave the country. There are thousands of people who would be happy to pay for a driver’s license and insurance so they could go to work each day without that fear.”

Just to be clear, I think it makes sense to have a program that addresses the fact that millions of undocumented aliens are driving cars in this country.

But it looks to me that implementing the law is going to be far more difficult than passing it.

Of course, we all know there are good American drivers who ignore the law every day.



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