Sheriff slams Secretary of State on driver's license rollout | WBEZ
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Sheriff slams Secretary of State on driver's license rollout

A suburban Chicago sheriff says Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office is dragging its feet on setting up a driver’s license program for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran points out that White’s office, which is launching a pilot phase of the program, is scheduling just 120 appointments a day for applicants to present their proof of state residence and take their driving exams.

The pilot phase comes almost 10 months after Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a measure making as many as 500,000 immigrants in Illinois eligible for a “temporary visitor’s” license.

“I would expect this type of a pace if the law passed in Alabama, where we have a hostile immigrant tone,” said Curran, a Republican who pushed for the law. “But, in Illinois, there was overwhelming support for this legislation.”

White, a Democrat, announced his support for the measure but Curran is questioning the secretary of state’s sincerity in light of the law’s implementation. “Actions sometimes speak louder than words,” the sheriff said.

Curran says the secretary of state’s office should have set up the program faster because many of the immigrants are already behind the wheel. “We want people to have taken a driver’s test,” Curran said. “We want people to have insurance. We want people to understand the rules of the road.”

Henry Haupt, a spokesman for White, bristled at the criticism. “It would be irresponsible and reckless for our office to roll out a program of this magnitude statewide without first thoroughly testing it,” Haupt said.

“Keep in mind that the state of California has been given approximately two years to implement [a similar] program,” Haupt said. “We’ve had to set all of this up without any additional revenue provided by the General Assembly. To just open up facilities throughout the state without testing it and potentially have thousands upon thousands of individuals showing up at facilities wouldn’t do anyone any good.”

Haupt says the appointment scheduling will get faster in mid-December. By February, he said, the secretary of state’s office will offer the appointments at 36 facilities statewide.

Another suburban sheriff who helped push the measure into law says the pace of its implementation doesn’t bother him. “If the program is rolling out slower than expected, I would rather see it done slowly and correctly than to push it and have it done fast and mistakes be made,” said Kane County Sheriff Patrick Perez, a Democrat.

But that approach will keep many immigrant drivers unlicensed for months to come. “I’ve been in the United States for 23 years,” said a stay-at-home mother of Chicago’s Southwest Side who drives her children to school and her father to dialysis appointments. “We need that document to live well here,” she said, asking that her name not be published.

Chip Mitchell is WBEZ’s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud, and connect with him through Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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