CHAMPAIGN — Champaign resident Andres Diego says he has to catch a ride to go to and from his job sifting corn in Farmer City.
Diego, 29, said he moved here from Guatemala about nine years ago to find work, and his wife and four children still live in the Central American country.
"I love the United States," Diego said.
Diego says he would rather drive himself to and from work, but, like other undocumented immigrants, he has been unable to get an Illinois driver's license.
That will all change later this year when a bill signed into law last month by Gov. Pat Quinn goes into effect, permitting undocumented immigrants in Illinois to get a driver's license.
In a written statement, Quinn said the law "will help ensure every Illinois motorist is properly licensed and empower more immigrants to become stronger contributors to our economy."
"Having a license is very important for me," Diego said. "I used to drive when I was in Guatemala, and soon I can drive at ease here in Illinois."
Ricardo Diaz, a steering committee member for the CU Immigration Forum, an organization that does advocacy work for local immigrants, said group members had been contacting legislators and others to get the driver's license law passed.
"A year ago we put together a list of wishes, and getting driver's licenses was near the top, with overwhelming support," Diaz said.
Diaz estimates, based on census data, that there are 23,000 foreign-born persons in Champaign County, but he doesn't know how many are undocumented immigrants.
Diaz said finding somebody to provide rides for undocumented immigrants is often a challenge.
"Usually there is one person in the group who can legally drive, and sometimes people risk driving without a license," Diaz said.
But qualifying for the new driver's license when it becomes available about 10 months from now is going to be expensive.
The new law requires undocumented people to get automobile insurance.
Some area agents say auto insurance premiums could run hundreds of dollars or more for undocumented persons.
"When an individual calls us for insurance, we get their information: name, address, birth date, driver's license number and VIN number, and our systems then calculate a quote," said Michael Rumsey, a Farmers Insurance agent in Savoy.
Rumsey said the insurance company does research validating the information the applicant has provided, including how long he or she has had an Illinois driver's license and his or her driving record.
"If you are just obtaining an Illinois driver's license for the first time, then it will ask for your foreign driver's license number," Rumsey said.
"You are able to obtain insurance without a Social Security number, but you are going to pay a pretty high premium. Some of the normal premiums would be $400 to $600 over six months. Without having all the info, you can expect the cost to jump to $1,100 to $1,500 every six months. Now, that is just a ballpark guess; each customer is different."
Rumsey said the undocumented immigrants face higher premiums because they don't have a documented driving record in this country.
"The better the driving record, the better risk you are, so the cost of the insurance is less," he said.
Dave Ellars, an agent at the Thomas & Ellars Insurance Agency in Champaign, said the undocumented immigrants could be asked to pay premiums that are 20 percent to 25 percent more than premiums paid by documented American citizens.
"Most companies require a person to have a three-year previous driving record," Ellars said. "Many of the undocumented people won't have a three-year previous driving record, so it will cost more because of that."
Ellars said another factor behind higher premiums is that many undocumented persons haven't built up a history of prior auto insurance coverage.
"It will cost them more because they don't have prior insurance," Ellars said.
Ellars said the undocumented immigrants will be able to get not only liability insurance but also comprehensive insurance as long as they are able to pay the premiums.
Jim Snyder, an agent for James Snyder Insurance in Rantoul, said he expects to offer full coverage to people from other countries.
"But it will cost a little more," Snyder said. "If they have a trackable driving experience, their premium cost is going to be less."
Snyder said persons with driver's licenses from other countries would likely pay less than those who don't have those licenses, depending on their driving record, and persons who previously had auto insurance could also be eligible for discounts.
But some insurance companies aren't saying yet how much undocumented immigrants might pay for auto insurance once the new driver's licenses are issued later this year.
"We can't speculate on the cost," said Missy Dundov, a spokeswoman for State Farm. "We still have nine or 10 months to go before this goes into effect. It is hard to speculate on these things."
Dundov said State Farm plans on using its normal underwriting procedures in determining premiums for the undocumented immigrants.
"With this new law, anybody with a driver's license can go to a State Farm office to apply for insurance," Dundov said. "As of right now, if they come in with a valid driver's license, we will use normal underwriting guidelines to handle it."
Dundov said the undocumented immigrants can consult with their agent over whether to get only liability insurance or comprehensive and collision insurance.
"If they come in, we will talk to them about any kind of insurance they need," Dundov said. "You have to have liability insurance in Illinois, but you can also have comprehensive and collision insurance added on."
The new "temporary visitor driver's licenses" will look different from traditional Illinois driver's licenses. The card will have a blue background instead of a red one, and will be valid for three years instead of the traditional four years.
The new licenses will be marked "not valid for identification," so persons getting them won't be able to use them to do things such as buying a gun or boarding an airplane.
In order for someone to qualify for the license, he or she must show proof he or she has lived in Illinois for at least a year and is ineligible to get a Social Security card.
The applicant must also pay a $30 fee and pass vision, written and road tests.
"I hope that everyone obtains and keeps their vehicle's insurance," Rumsey said. "You never know when something is going to happen."