October 19, 2012

Latinos cited more than others for driving without a license

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Roger Morales/Hoy

By Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — Latinos in Urbana and Champaign make up 5 and 6 percent of the population, respectively, and, from 2007 to 2011, about the same proportion of the cities’ total citations and arrests.

But there’s one violation in which Latinos are heavily overrepresented: failing to have a drivers license.

In both cities, Latinos made up at least 32 percent of the drivers cited for this violation, according to an Hoy analysis of arrest data.

In Champaign, it was 880 of 2,725, or 32 percent, of such citations.

In Urbana, the figure was 357 of 1,038, or 34 percent.

In all, not having a drivers license figured in 21 percent of the 4,174 citations or arrests involving Latinos in Champaign during the five-year period.  In Urbana, it was 19 percent of the 1,921 citations or arrests.

By contrast, for all other race groups, not having a drivers license made up just 2 percent of all arrests and citations during the same years.

The high numbers are a reflection of a number of Latinos in the area not being there legally, according to John M. Wilkie, an immigration attorney.

“Most of my Latino clients are ‘undocumented,’ so that means they can’t get Social Security numbers,” Wilkie said.  “A lot of them might have a Mexican drivers license, but the law says that In Illinois you’re supposed to get a license within 90 days..

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“It’s a direct reflection between the lack of documented status and no license,” Wilkie said.

In an opinion piece published in Hoy on September 27, IL. Sen Iris Martinez (D-20) cited studies that said there are 250,000 unlicensed drivers in Illinois.  On average, these drivers are involved in about 76,000 accidents per year, she wrote.

In some instances, Latinos drivers who have been stopped for not having a license have ended up being deported, said Wilkie, who is also a member of pro-immigrant group C-U Immigration Forum.

That threat has receded since Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh’s March 8 decision to inform the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of  Homeland Security that Champaign County would no longer honor ICE requests to hold immigrants under the controversial “Secure Communities” federal deportation program, according to Wilkie.

Those numbers could change following the Obama Administration’s June decision to grant young immigrants who came to the country illegally the ability for two years to remain in the United States and work legally.

These “dreamers” could apply for an employment authorization document, which in turn could enable them to get a Social Security number from the Secretary of State.

Having that number could then lead to the young immigrants’ obtaining a drivers license.
The ranks of Latinos cited for not having a license could also fall if the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has its way.

The group is working with the “Safety First Coalition” to allow all people in the state who are old enough to apply for a license. Such a measure would lead to greater safety, reduced court costs and lower insurance rates for all drivers, according to an organizational fact sheet.

“It’s in the police officer’s interest for people to have a valid photo id,” Wilkie said, adding that people with licenses are also more likely to purchase liability insurance.

Martinez wrote that she is working with other members of the Latino Caucus and Senate President John Cullerton to pass legislation.

“I invite you to stay informed on the subject, to participate in the discussion, and to support an initiative that, if achieved, will make our roads safer for the benefit of you and your family.”