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RACINE — Activists are preparing to take the fight to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses across the state and into Racine City Hall.

The statewide Driver Licenses for All campaign aims to restore the ability of undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Campaigners also hope to help citizens who have never had a license or who lost theirs due to fines to get the ability to legally drive.

At a meeting Saturday at the Racine Labor Center, 2100 Layard Ave., activists from Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant advocacy group, and Racine’s Interfaith Coalition laid out their strategy for revising Wisconsin state law so that not only undocumented immigrants, but anyone could obtain a license.

“Included in this bill is a provision that will allow people who’ve lost their licenses, who’ve never had their licenses, that they will be able to get their licenses back,” said Al Levie. “This is an issue that affects working-class Latinos, African Americans and whites.”

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, attended Saturday’s meeting and said she plans to introduce the bill during the upcoming budget process.

“If we introduce it as a standalone bill it would have to go through the (Assembly) and the Senate,” said Zamarripa. “The best chance to get it passed is through the state budget.”

Zamarripa said she knew some Republicans who supported the bill; she said she hoped that, if it does not get passed through the budget and she has to resubmit it as a standalone, that she could get one of those Republicans to co-sign.

A study by the nonprofit Kids Forward indicated that if the estimated 32,000 undocumented residents could obtain licenses, it would be a boon for the insurance industry as more drivers would legally obtain insurance. That could also result in reduced auto insurance premiums across the board.

Increased mobility could also lead to greater economic growth as undocumented immigrants would be more likely to work and spend their income.

Local initiatives

While waiting to see what happens at the state level, Racine activists plan to push local entities to endorse the initiative.

Activists said that Racine Alderman John Tate II, who did not attend the meeting, plans to introduce such a bill to the City Council via the Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commissions meeting next month. The Journal Times contacted Tate to confirm but did not receive a response.

Jane Barbian, a Racine Unified School Board member and the board’s legislative liaison, on Monday floated the idea of the board putting its official backing behind the driver’s license campaign.

The board is expected to vote on a resolution, in support of a law change allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, during its next business meeting on Dec. 17.

South of the Border

One attendee said that if the initiative doesn’t work out, he would seriously consider relocating his family to Illinois where he could obtain a license.

Twelve states already offer driving privileges to undocumented individuals. They are Illinois, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, signed the Illinois bill into law on Jan. 28, 2013.

The law, which went into effect later that year, allows those in the country illegally who can prove they’ve lived in Illinois for at least a year to obtain temporary visitor driver’s licenses. To be eligible, undocumented immigrants must show proof of insurance and take road, written and vision tests, just like other drivers. The cards can only be used to show the holder can legally drive, not as any other form of identification.

License applicants must submit a valid, unexpired passport from his or her country of citizenship or a valid, unexpired consular identification document issued by a consulate of that country.

The temporary licenses are valid for three years, while regular Illinois licenses are valid for four. The cards are clearly distinguishable from licenses for United State citizens, as the strips across the top are purple instead of red, and the temporary licenses read “not valid for identification.”

Applications for the cards are accepted at a limited number of Illinois Secretary of State facilities. The cards for undocumented immigrants cost $30, the same as regular driver’s licenses. The licenses are mailed to applicants after their information is verified by the state.

In 2015 Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office administers the program, said the licensing process for undocumented immigrants appeared to be working well, according to The Southern Illinoisan.

“He thinks the program has been very successful,” said spokesman Henry Haupt.

According to CNN, Quinn said the law was mostly motivated by a desire for safer Illinois roads. If temporary license holders are found to be driving without insurance, they are ticketed and their license is considered invalid until they obtain insurance.

Most Republicans in the Illinois Legislature rejected the license proposal, but Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and state Sen. Bill Brady both supported it.

More than 85,000 undocumented immigrants obtained licenses through the program in its first year, and by late 2016 the number had grown to 212,000.

Even those who support expanded rights for undocumented immigrants have some concerns about the program, however.

According to a 2016 ProPublica report, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office said that it cannot promise that it can keep temporary license applicants’ information out of the hands of federal immigration authorities.

An FAQ published by the state says it has no plans to share information of license holders with federal immigration authorities, but will comply with any “legally valid request” for information on license applicants who lack proof of legal residence.

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

Reporter

Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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