Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=214713
Story Retrieval Date: 12/22/2014 2:36:45 PM CST
Illinois this weekend extended driving license privileges to undocumented immigrants. But will applying for a license make the applicants targets for deportation?
“I hope that is not the case. That is certainly not the intent of the people behind this bill,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said, echoing the uncertainty that surrounds this facet of the bill.
Driver’s licenses have always been a searchable database that is available to law enforcement agencies and, to some extent, to the general public. With Temporary Visitor’s Driving Licenses being extended to undocumented immigrants, people who have so far been living in the shadows are being asked to declare their lack of documentation to drive legally.
According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights, an organization that supported the bill, there are some safety provisions built into the system. Illinois has been issuing temporary visitor’s licenses to documented immigrants without Social Security numbers since 2005. The licenses that will be issued to the undocumented immigrants will not be different. It will not be possible for somebody to obtain a person’s immigration status from his or her license.
But is there really safety in numbers?
According to Secretary of State’s office, the state has issued about 15,500 temporary licenses to legal immigrants, including students and families of immigrants. There are about 250,000 undocumented immigrants who may benefit from this bill. As many as 125,000 applicants are expected to apply in the first year, which is nearly an 800 percent increase.
“A person can [request] for a TVDL holder’s driving history but not his [immigration] status. We will not provide that,” said Dave Druker speaking for Secretary of State Jesse White’s office. “But the fact of the matter is, if a federal agency subpoenas for this information, we will have to hand it over,” Druker cautioned.
Rebecca Shi, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said, “This is primarily a safety initiative. The Obama administration has pledged to deport only people with criminal history.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to comment on this matter.
Shi says she understands the reservations potential applicants have against volunteering information. That, Shi said, is the reason the proponents of the bill pushed to remove fingerprinting requirements.”
There have been fears that fingerprinting will be a violation of their privacy. It sets off alarms,” Shi said. “We want to encourage people to apply for this.”
“This is a step forward. The reality is that people can be detained and deported if they are found to be driving without a license,” Shi said. “This bill is something we want. We fought for this for almost 14 years.”