Q: Is it true that noncitizens living here illegally can get a valid Illinois driver's license? How can they get a license without getting reported to immigration?
A: Yes. Undocumented immigrants can get a driver's license, starting Nov. 28. Applying for and getting the new "temporary visitor's driver's license" shouldn't raise any red flags, because the secretary of state won't routinely share information with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Illinois has had a TVDL for noncitizens since about 2006. Last January, that law was tweaked to allow a TVDL for someone "unable to present documentation issued by the (USCIS) authorizing the person's presence in this country."
Actual TVDLs apparently won't be issued until the law formally goes into effect Nov. 28. But Secretary of State Jesse White's website (cyberdriveillinois) says you can apply now.
You can apply only at 25 designated offices; Champaign is one. You can't just walk in — you must make an appointment. (The appointment line is 855-236-1155.)
Applying requires an unexpired passport from your home country, or a "consular card" from Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador or Guatemala. Only cards from those countries are accepted, and a TVDL is the only kind of Illinois license those consular cards can be used for.)
You must also provide two documents proving your current address, and one document proving you've resided in Illinois for the last 12 months.
The website has a handy one-page guide listing the documents they'll accept, along with other useful info.
There's an application form to complete, along with a "verification of residency form" giving all the addresses where you've lived in the past 12 months. It costs $30 to apply.
Like all drivers, you must pass both a written and road test. If you fail, you can retake either or both on the same day. Proof of insurance is required to take the road test.
And you must be photographed. The rare "nonphoto" driver's license is not an option for a TVDL.
If you pass the tests, and the secretary of state verifies your information, you'll get your TVDL sent in the mail — "within 15-20 business days," the website says. It's good for three years.
A TVDL is only good for driving, with insurance. It's not valid as an ID, or without insurance. Driving with a TVDL, but without required insurance, can result in both a ticket for having no insurance, and for driving without a valid license.
The secretary of state says it has "no plans to provide information to federal immigration authorities (or any other agency) without a request." But they say they'll comply with "a legally valid request from a federal agency (or any other governmental agency) for information regarding undocumented TVDLs."
Finally, it's not a crime to be here illegally. It may violate federal immigration law, but the remedy for that is "removal" (formerly "deportation"). The Supreme Court has said that "deportation, however severe its consequences, has been consistently classified as a civil rather than a criminal procedure."
John Roska is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.