Thursday, June 30, 2011

Undocumented drivers to be fingerprinted (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Undocumented drivers to be fingerprinted

The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah’s latest version of its driving privilege card takes effect Friday — one that expands background checks on undocumented immigrants in a compromise that saved the program from being dumped entirely.

The six-year-old program allows cardholders to drive legally in Utah without having to prove legal residency and is based on the premise that the permit allows these drivers to obtain auto insurance.

Nanette Rolfe, director of public safety, said the new application and renewal process targets only those convicted of felonies or with outstanding warrants by requiring applicants to be fingerprinted and bring photo identification to obtain a driving privilege card.

“If they’re an individual that is upholding the law, there should be no reason the fingerprints should be shared with anyone unless there is a felony or outstanding warrant,” Rolfe said. “There is no reason to be afraid.”

Data on an applicant who has a felony will be sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; information on an individual with an outstanding warrant will be forwarded to local police.

Alfonso Gonzalez, 42, an undocumented immigrant from West Valley City, renewed his driving privilege card on Monday before SB138 takes effect. But the Mexican national must submit his fingerprints next year when seeking renewal.

“I have lived in this country for over 20 years and have had no legal problems, so I have no fear of submitting my fingerprints,” he said.

The changes to the driving privilege card came in the 2011 legislative session when Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, initially proposed eliminating the program entirely. But Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, substituted the Urquhart measure with the new procedures and that version, SB138, passed in the Senate 25-3 and in the House 58-12. Urquhart was among those to vote for the Bramble version.

Bramble was the author of the original 2005 law authorizing the driving privilege card, and Rolfe said it averages 41,000 participants a year. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are roughly 110,000 undocumented immigrants in Utah.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, voted against SB138 because she felt the program was already working and didn’t need to be fixed.

“I think the driver privilege card is one of the best public policies we have,” Robles said. “It does what it is there to do. It allows them to be legally tested and trained on the road. It lets us know where they are and that they have insurance. For me, this has always been a public safety issue.”

Renewals and new applicants under the law will now be required to go to participating law enforcement agencies — of which there are five listed — and get fingerprinted and have their photo taken.

Rolfe said the fingerprints will be filed and if an undocumented immigrant has a clean record, they are stored in a database. If the applicant commits a felony or has a warrant out for his or her arrest after being fingerprinted, the fingerprints and photo can be called up to track that person down.

There will be additional cost as well.

The fee for a new or renewed driving privilege card — which is good for a year — is $25. Now, an additional $25 fee will be tacked on to cover the storage of the fingerprinting database with the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said his group supported Urquhart’s attempt to eliminate the driving privilege card but then backed this latest version.

He said his hope was it would “dissuade people from applying” and he predicted it would.

“I just think people who are here unlawfully aren’t going to want to be fingerprinted,” Mortensen said.

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said there has been some concern in the community about the process — but mostly among those who do have existing warrants.

Yapias said, however, the driving privilege card program is a good one that helps keep highways safe.

“We want to make sure drivers on the road have insurance and proper registration,” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”

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