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Undocumented immigrants soon can apply for drivers licenses in Aurora, Naperville

BarbarHernandez (left) who works for State Rep. LindChapLaVi(D-Aurora) helps participants sign Saturday's workshop East AurorHigh School about how undocumented immigrants

Barbara Hernandez (left) who works for State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) helps participants sign in at Saturday's workshop at East Aurora High School about how undocumented immigrants can obtain a state drivers license. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2013 6:08AM

AURORA — The Illinois office that issues driver’s licenses is preparing to roll out its biggest initiative in 14 years: helping undocumented immigrants apply for those licenses.

Come December, when appointments become available to apply for the licenses, an Aurora facility will be one of 25 designated locations across the state where immigrants can go to get them.

“This is our No. 1 priority right now in our office,” said Tom Benigno, chief of staff to Secretary of State Jesse White, who leads the office that is overseeing the initiative.

Benigno joined State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) and Alderman Juany Garza at a Spanish-language workshop Saturday at East Aurora High School, attended by about 50 adults, to explain how to obtain the temporary license and to warn applicants about frauds surrounding the licenses. It was the fourth such session hosted in Aurora since March.

Under the new law, which was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in January, undocumented immigrants are eligible for a three-year temporary driver’s license, which cannot be used for identification purposes and is invalid without proper insurance.

The license can’t be used to vote, work, fly on an airplane or purchase a gun.

Supporters say the initiative promotes public safety because it will encourage more drivers to get car insurance and allow immigrants to legally drive to work and pick up children from school. The facial recognition technology used to issue license, they say, will help prevent fraud.

Officials still are unsure how many people will apply for the license, given fears undocumented immigrants have about coming forward with their identities.

“We won’t share your information with immigration,” Ernesto Martinez, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, told workshop attendees emphatically.

An estimated 250,000 immigrants who illegally entered the country and live in Illinois are eligible to apply. The system is set up to issue up to 106,000 temporary licenses a year, officials said.

Many, like Maria Juana Martinez of Aurora, plan to make an appointment as soon as possible.

“It’s going to be such a benefit to drive my daughter to school,” said Martinez.

To spread the word about the licenses, officials are traveling the state over the next two months hosting question-and-answer sessions like the one held at East High, as well as legal clinics.

Applicants cannot be eligible for a Social Security number and must prove they’ve lived at least one year in Illinois.

Appointments are necessary to apply for a driver’s license, officials said. Applicants can schedule an appointment as of Nov. 1 by calling 855-236-1155 or visiting Appointments begin Dec. 1.

Though appointments are available for one individual at a time, applicants can bring a translator to help.

After individuals prove their residency, take the written test and road exam and pay the $30 application fee, they will receive their license in the mail. It will appear different than a traditional license, with a blue instead of red background.

In addition to the designated Aurora site, which is located at 339 E. Indian Trail, there are approved facilities in Naperville, Elgin and Joliet. Employees specially trained about the licenses will handle the applications.

Officials warned potential applicants not to pay anyone to expedite their appointment date, buy a driver’s license, take a driver’s test or purchase a study guide for the test. Those are among the fraudulent schemes being carried out, officials said.

Marisol Suarez, of Lisle, said she’d heard a lot of misinformation about the program, such as that she didn’t need an appointment or that appointments were available back in March. It was a relief to hear from experts, she said, who answered her questions.

Officials plan to host at least seven legal clinics, including one in Aurora, in October and November to address the variety of legal issues related to the licenses, notably if the applicant used a false Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license illegally or if the driver has a crime on his record, such as a DUI.

If an individual used a false Social Security number to obtain a license, he or she has to call the secretary of state’s fraud division to report it. The individual could obtain a legal license only after a 12-month suspension and paying a reinstatement fee.

“Every mistake has a consequence and the consequence is suspension,” Martinez said. “Remember, this is a country of laws.”

The first legal clinic will be held Oct. 19 in Cicero from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lawyers will be trained about the licenses and offer free services. For more information about the legal clinic or to volunteer legal services, contact Silvia Villa, director of the Illinois Welcoming Center, at 708-442-8640.

Illinois is among at least 10 states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. California was the most recent state to join that list, with the governor signing the state’s law last week.

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