Secretary of State Jesse White knows where 235,000 undocumented immigrants live in Illinois — and he doesn’t want to tell Donald Trump.
White is vowing to fight any requests by the Trump administration to gain access to a trove of personal information about immigrants who hold Illinois temporary visitor driver’s licenses, known as TVDLs.
State officials say they have no knowledge that Trump intends to seek such information, which could help the federal government locate and deport undocumented immigrants. But White is ready for such a request from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.
“If we received a subpoena or warrant from ICE, we would ask the [Illinois] attorney general for an opinion on that,” White spokesman Dave Druker says. “And we would ask that they fight it.”
Asked whether the Trump administration plans to seek the personal information that immigrants furnish to obtain TVDL licenses, ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro says the agency doesn’t generally use state motor-vehicle data to “identify immigration enforcement targets.”
But like other law-enforcement agencies, ICE might use such data “in support of ongoing criminal investigations — including identity theft investigations — or to aid in locating individuals who pose a national security risk or public safety threat, to include immigration violators such as fugitives,” Montenegro says.
Illinois began issuing TVDLs to undocumented immigrants in December 2013 to improve road safety under a law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
“We think it’s been a very successful program,” Druker says.
Undocumented immigrants must pass a driving test and prove they have auto insurance before they can get a TVDL. They have to provide their names, passport or consular cards, ages and documents proving they’ve lived in Illinois at least a year and current and prior addresses.
About 235,000 undocumented immigrants hold Illinois TVDLs, but another 30,000 foreign nationals who are in the country legally — “maybe the children of a professor or the wife of an executive” — also have them, according to Druker.
TVDLs are just for driving and can’t be used as identification to get on a plane, gain access to a government building or open a bank account, Druker says.
Druker says he doesn’t have figures showing how TVDL holders stack up to other drivers in terms of safety nor any breakdown of TVDL drivers by nationality.
Issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants became a national issue in 2007 during the Democratic presidential primary. At a debate, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were asked whether they supported such licenses. Obama said yes. Clinton waffled. She seemed to defend the idea, then suggested she opposed it. Finally, she accused the moderator of playing “gotcha.”
At least 10 states now allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, including California, where about 800,000 drivers have them.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, says immigrants wouldn’t have provided their personal information if they thought it would be handed over for potential deportation proceedings.
“We were asking these people to get these driver’s documents to ensure they were driving safely,” Yohnka says. “There was a sense back then that, if the feds came after this information, the state would resist.”
There was a hiccup in the program in 2014 when the secretary of state’s police notified immigration officials about a deportation warrant for Felipe de Jesus Diosdado, who’d applied for one of the licenses. Diosdado was detained by immigration officials but eventually released. His case prompted White’s office to revise its policy on dealing with TVDL applicants.
Druker says the agency contacts local law enforcement only if a TVDL applicant has an outstanding felony warrant in that jurisdiction, “and we only contact Homeland Security when someone is on a terrorist watch list.”
Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigrant rights advocate who represented Diosdado in 2014, says he’s still living in the United States.
“He was able to convince them not to deport him,” she says of immigration officials. “We definitely are concerned about how the government, under the new administration, will consider those requests to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”
She urges immigrants with TVDLs to renew them when their three-year expiration period comes up. Many of the licenses will expire in 2017.
“The best advice I can give people is that driving without a license can lead to an arrest ,which could lead to an encounter with Immigration,” Ruiz-Velasco says.
As for the possibility of the Trump administration seeking immigrants’ personal information from their TVDL applications, she says: “People are aware of that, and people are afraid.”
MORE IN ‘THE THIRD BORDER’ SERIES:
• Doctors gave fake medical opinions to help win citizenship, Feb. 26, 2017
• Deportation takes toll on family left behind in Chicago, Feb. 19, 2017
• In Immigration Court, few criminals, far more minor offenders, Feb. 12, 2017