Updated 11/16/12 – 4:52 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several key aldermen are backing a proposal in the state legislature to offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
CBS 2’s Chris Martinez reports supporters of the measure argue Illinois residents are already sharing the roads with thousands of illegal immigrants who are driving without licenses – and without insurance.
State lawmakers have weighed various proposals to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants for more than a decade, without success.
The latest proposal would extend the state’s Temporary Visitor Driver’s License program to cover undocumented immigrants. The temporary licenses could not be used for legal identification.
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Emanuel said offering temporary visitor’s licenses to undocumented immigrants—as they do in some other states—is safer and makes more sense.
“One, it makes them get training. Two, it makes them get insurance,” Emanuel said. “For all the rest of the drivers on the street, those are both good things to happen. And for the individual, it is a good thing, because part of why they drive is they want to get to a place of work.”
The mayor and the City Council want the Illinois legislature to join states like Washington, Utah and New Mexico in expanding the license program and cut the number of uninsured motorists on the roads.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said, “Since Utah began its program in 1999, the rate of uninsured motorists fell from 28 to under 9 percent. Since New Mexico made this change in 2003, its rate of uninsured motorists fell from 33 percent to under 9 percent.”
At the Illinois Latino Caucus Foundation’s annual conference on Friday, Latino lawmakers and community leaders said the measure would be critical for public safety.
“Having 250,000 people that have not been licensed, or trained, or insured to drive is a safety issue,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition For Immigrant & Refugee Rights.
But opponents have said – regardless of those numbers – giving state licenses to undocumented immigrants only validates their violation of immigration laws.
However, state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) said she thinks licensing undocumented immigrants would validate their contributions to the community.
“I think that we’re going to be able to identify hard-working folks, who just want some kind of ID so they’re not pulled over and taken to jail because they don’t have a driver’s license,” she said.
Erendira Rendon said it’s scary for her every time she gets behind the wheel. It’s why she only does so when she must. As an unlicensed, undocumented immigrant, every ride carries great risk
“For my parents, what it means is that, when they get pulled over, they will get arrested, and possibly deported,” she said.
Opponents have said driving is a privilege not a right, and people who are in the country illegally shouldn’t have that right.
Lawmakers have said they could take up the proposal during their upcoming veto session. If approved, the program could go into place as soon as next summer.