Illinois slowly begins issuing temporary driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

November 14, 2013

Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski
The Secretary of State’s office estimates more than 250,000 people will apply for a temporary visitor drivers license.

Busy phone lines and websites reaching capacity: It isn’t the federal health care program or the Chicago Transit Authority’s Ventra system — it’s Illinois’ launch of the Temporary Visitor Driver’s License sign up.

But this time, the state says it’s slow on purpose.

Earlier this week, undocumented immigrants started signing up for appointments with the Secretary of State’s office to receive a temporary license.

Organizations like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said many were frustrated when they couldn’t sign up on the first days; that it wasn’t clear that this is a pilot phase.

People can sign up for an appointment by going online or calling to schedule a time. Appointments can be scheduled 90 days in advance but, so far, the state has reached capacity everyday.

“We had to design the system in a way with four pilot facilities available launching on Dec. 3 and 10, that we could study how this works in this controlled environment," said Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt. "And this is giving us the opportunity to make any adjustments.”

Haput said the pilot program is working as planned. The state intentionally limited the appointment numbers to 117 a day. Twenty-one additional facilities are scheduled to open in January, and Haupt said that will allow the state to increase its capacity for appointments starting later in December.

Until then, people can continue trying to sign up on a daily basis until slots are full.

Ere Rendon with ICIRR said about 10 out of 100 people her organization worked with were successful in scheduling an appointment.

She thinks the pilot program could have been communicated better from the beginning so people wouldn’t feel panicked when they couldn’t get through.

Rendon said it isn’t a matter of convenience that people are clamoring to sign up, but a matter of protection. Getting pulled over without a license can mean high fees and jail time.

Separately, the state is warning people to watch out for scams related to the temporary driver’s licenses. Some may try to claim they can offer an expedited license for a fee. The state said the document can only be obtained through the Secretary of State’s office.

Susie An is a business reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @soosieon.