Illinois Democrats are pushing a bill that would grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, saying the policy would improve road safety and cut down on uninsured drivers.
“This is a safety issue that impacts every driver in Illinois, and we should join together to take swift action to save lives,” Governor Pat Quinn said at a news conference on Tuesday (November 20). “Making sure all motorists, regardless of their background, are licensed and insured will drive economic growth and ease the financial burden on all Illinois motorists.”
The legislation, expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, would make Illinois the fourth state to allow some undocumented immigrants to legally drive. It would let such drivers apply for Temporary Visitors Drivers Licenses, which are currently issued to people, such as foreign students, who lack a social security number but are living in Illinois legally.
Current Illinois law bars the state from issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants. That cuts them off from work opportunities, advocates say, or it prompts them to hit the road unlicensed and uninsured — and without road and eye tests.
As many as 250,000 immigrants drive without licenses in Illinois, according to the Highway Safety Coalition, a group of law enforcement, labor and faith officials backing the bill. Those drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents each year, causing some $660 million damage claims, the group says.
New Mexico and Washington grant driver's licenses to the group, while Utah issues a “driving privilege card.” In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation allowing the roughly 450,000 immigrants qualifying for the federal “deferred action” program to apply for licenses.
Advocates say such laws have cut down on accidents and uninsured driving, though it's hard to isolate the impact in studies.
It's the third time legislation has been floated to change Illinois' licensing policy. This time advocates could be buoyed by Republicans who hope to broaden their party's appeal to Latino voters who roundly turned out for Democrats on Election Day.
But some in the state GOP remain skeptical about the legislation, saying it would reward illegal behavior.
“Why are we offering a ride to people who have broken the law?” outgoing Representative Randy Ramey told the Chicago Tribune. “All we're going to do is attract more illegals. From all I can gather, this is to try to get these folks to be a revenue source — give them (driving) certificates, pay for that. Buy insurance, pay for that.”
A spokeswoman for Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno told the paper the senator was open to the discussion but wants more details.