Fraud concerns linger over Illinois law giving illegal immigrants permission to drive
CHICAGO — As Illinois becomes the fourth and most populous state to give illegal immigrants permission to drive, nagging concerns remain about whether there are enough safeguards to avoid the identity fraud and other pitfalls other states faced.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed Illinois' measure into law on Sunday in Chicago. Backers, including Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and some of the state's top Republicans, tout it as a public safety measure. They argue that required facial recognition technology is reliable enough to prevent fraud.
They hailed it as an important step for immigrant rights in Illinois, which approved its own DREAM Act in 2010 to create a privately funded scholarship program for immigrant students.
“This was a bipartisan effort to pass an important law,” Quinn said. “When the president speaks on Tuesday, he can say about his home state of Illinois ... we not only passed the DREAM Act last year, we passed driver's licenses for those who are undocumented.”
However, the law's opponents have pointed to hundreds of fraudulent cases in New Mexico, Washington and Utah after those states began giving illegal immigrants permission to drive.
Illinois will not require applicants to be fingerprinted, for fear that would discourage immigrants from applying.
“How many people would apply for this document knowing that fingerprints will be going to (federal authorities)? Probably not all that many,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a driving force behind the measure.
Proponents say it will allow an estimated 250,000 people unlawfully residing in the state to apply for a three-year temporary driver's license and require them to get training and insurance. The Illinois Secretary of State's Office said the licenses will be available starting in November.
Those ready for the change include 45-year-old Victoria Chavez.
“I need to get my driver's license because I have two kids,” the Chicago woman said. “They need my support. This is a victory for all of us in the immigrant community.”
The licenses will be like those 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.
Other states' driving programs for illegal immigrants have been abused. Both New Mexico and Washington issue licenses, and Utah issues a permit.
An Associated Press investigation last year found a striking pattern in New Mexico, suggesting immigrants tried to game the system to obtain a license. In one instance, 48 foreign-born individuals claimed to live in a smoke shop in Albuquerque to fulfill a residency condition.
Authorities also busted a fraud ring last year that forged documents for illegal immigrants to use after driving from as far as Illinois and North Carolina to get a New Mexico license.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed for years to repeal the decade-old measure, but the Legislature has rejected such efforts.
Washington's requirements attracted national attention when Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, revealed his illegal immigration status in an essay for The New York Times Magazine in 2011. Vargas chronicled how he obtained his Washington license.
State authorities conducted an investigation that revealed Vargas did not reside at the address he stated in his application and canceled his license.
Utah's permit is not valid for identification. Illinois' law follows suit.
Utah's Republican-controlled Legislature amended the state's law in 2011 to require illegal immigrants to be fingerprinted, and it mandates that the state notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an applicant's fingerprint check yields a felony on record. If the applicant has a misdemeanor warrant outstanding, the state must notify the agency that is seeking the person's arrest.
That kind of information-sharing between state and immigration authorities worries Illinois' immigrant rights advocates, such as Tsao, who pushed for the legislation without a fingerprinting requirement. They say fingerprinting could deter potential licensees from applying for fear of being identified and deported.
Local law enforcement officials argue in favor of fingerprinting.
“We could see if they have committed a crime; it could be a crime in another state, or it could be a crime in their home country,” said John Kennedy, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Illinois Secretary of State's Office says its facial recognition database is highly sophisticated and accurate. The program uses an algorithm to match more than a dozen facial features that are not easy to alter, such as eye sockets and sides of the mouth.
“The integrity of our driver's license system is a priority,” said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the office.
Tsao's organization estimates uninsured illegal immigrant drivers cause $64 million in damage claims each year, an expense covered by increased premiums.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- House ethics panel defers campaign finance investigation of New York Rep. Grimm
- In Ferguson, demonstrations over black youth’s slaying by police officer peter out
- With no indictment, chaos fills Ferguson streets
- Boston airport’s ‘naked man’ remains behind bars
- Fissures begin to emerge among Dems
- Rookie Cleveland police officer acted within 2 seconds to shoot 12-year-old boy
- National Guard reinforcements contain damage in Ferguson
- Test vaccine to fight Ebola promising
- Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg has stent placed in heart artery
- Supreme Court will hear challenge to EPA’s power-plant rules
- Surge in small drones making airline pilots nervous