Fraud Concerns Linger over New Ill. License Law

NPR, January 27, 2013

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 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. {snip}

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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.

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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. {snip}

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The licenses will be like those already 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.

But other states’ driving programs for illegal immigrants have been abused. New Mexico and Washington both issue licenses, while 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 at 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 obtain 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 mandates that the state notify U.S. 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.

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