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Undocumented immigrants can apply for Illinois driver’s licenses in Nov.

Secretary State Jesse White holds up new temporary visitor drivers license edged purple regular drivers license edged red news conference

Secretary of State Jesse White holds up a new temporary visitor drivers license edged in purple and a regular drivers license edged in red at news conference announcing new license procedures. | Rossi Rosalind/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2013 8:14AM

At least 250,000 undocumented immigrants living in Illinois are expected to apply for new temporary driver’s licenses under a process that kicks off Nov. 12, officials said Tuesday.

The issuance of new Temporary Visitor Drivers’ Licenses makes Illinois the largest of a handful of states to hand out such licenses. California recently approved similar licenses, but it has more than a year to start issuing them.

“We are on the right side of the issue,’’ Secretary of State Jesse White said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the new application procedures.

White said the process ensures that undocumented residents who drive are insured and know the rules of the road. That promotes safety for all drivers as well as financial protection in case of an accident, he said.

The law signed earlier this year also requires that applicants prove they have lived in Illinois for at least a year.

“We want to make sure that people who come seeking a license live in Illinois,’’ White said. “We don’t want people from Wisconsin, Minnesota, other parts of the country, coming here to get a license.’’

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Chicago) said she expected 100 to 200 people would attend seminars offered by her office on the new law. Instead, more than 1,000 showed up.

“The expectation that the gates will be flooded is very real,’’ Hernandez said.

Devising the process involved tackling “a lot of thorny issues” and with “250,000 people coming in and applying for this license, this is complicated,’’ Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said at the news conference.

Lawmakers wanted to ensure that undocumented drivers were insured, tested and did not get exactly the same drivers license as regular drivers, he said.

The temporary licenses for illegal residents are edged in purple — just like the licenses issued to legal residents with visa status. They are valid for three years but cannot be used as identification. Regular drivers get licenses that are bordered in red, are valid for four years and can be used as identification.

Starting Nov. 12, applicants may schedule in-person appointments at a Secretary of State facility by calling (855) 236-1155 or at Website application procedures and phone operators will be available in Spanish, Polish, Mandarin Chinese and Korean, program manager Lisa Grau said.

Starting Dec. 3, two Secretary of State locations will begin processing those with appointments: 5301 W. Lexington in Chicago and 2701 S. Dirksen Parkway in Springfield.

On Dec. 10, two more locations will be added: 5401 N. Elston in Chicago and 1510 W. Market St., in Bloomington.

In January, 21 more facilities will accept appointments. No walk-ins will be allowed.

At their appointments, applicants must provide documents proving their date of birth; their written signature; their Illinois address for at least one year, and insurance coverage. Their photo will be taken and processed through the state’s facial recognition database, and they will take a driver’s road test, a written test on the Illinois rules of the road, and a vision test.

Written materials will be provided in four other languages, and translators will be available at facilities, but applicants also are encouraged to bring friends or relatives with them to act as interpreters, Secretary of State officials said.

Once documents are verified and insurance is proven, applicants will receive a driver’s license in the mail.

Officials estimated the in-person appointment process should take two hours per person. They expect to issue 100,000 licenses a year, at $30 each.

Officials have no intention of sharing driver’s license information with immigration officials, but “on a case-by-case basis,’’ if they receive “a legitimate request from police” or a subpoena for information on a driver, that request will be honored, Secretary of State attorney Nathan Maddox said.

Hernandez said she has encountered “a lot of fear” about the news licenses, but also “much gratefulness, that finally, [undocumented immigrants say] ‘I can drive and feel I will not be stopped.’ ”

She encouraged prospective applicants to educate themselves on the process and take advantage of it.

Said Hernandez: “It’s a legal way to drive. You’re safe, and it’s safer for others that you are trained and insured.’’


Twitter: @rosalind rossi

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