CHICAGO (CBS) — About a quarter million undocumented immigrants in the state would be eligible to get driver’s licenses under legislation that has the support of both current Gov. Pat Quinn and former Gov. Jim Edgar.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports supporters have said giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses would improve public safety, but it’s a political issue as well.
The measure would expand the state’s Temporary Visitor Driver’s License program to cover undocumented immigrants. The temporary licenses could not be used for legal identification. Immigrants seeking a license would be subject to the same written and driving tests that Illinois residents face when applying for a license.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said, “These are people who want to have a license, who want to be tested, who want to be legal on the road, but they’re not allowed to do so.”
He also acknowledged the issue is a political one, considering the power Latino voters demonstrated in this month’s elections.
“I hope, obviously, the bipartisan part would be the Republicans realizing that this is something which is very important to the immigrant community in the state of Illinois, but that’s up to them,” He said. “My motivation here has always been highway safety. If we can pass an important bill like this, and start saving lives right away, I think we should pass it as soon as we can.”
Licenses for undocumented immigrants has been billed as a measure to improve road safety – by making sure more drivers who are already on the roads go through the legally required testing for a license – but the political undertones were unmistakable.
“It’s a safety measure, but also it’s a measure of making sure that we include people,” Quinn, a Democrat, said Tuesday.
Edgar, a Republican, also threw his support behind the proposal.
“It is a piece of legislation that is morally fair, economically sound, and politically smart,” he said.
Although Edgar said the measure would be good government, he also admitted selfish motives, as a Republican, for supporting the plan.
“If we don’t reach out to the Hispanic community – if we allow the Hispanic community to go like the African-American community goes – there won’t be enough votes to elect a Republican in this state, and in this nation,” he said. “I think Mayor Daley – the original Mayor Daley – said good government is good politics.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “This legislation would not only create value for the city, it would reflect the values of our city.”
Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license would not only mean they’d have to pass the mandatory testing – making roads safer for all drivers – they’d also be able to drive without fear of being arrested and possibly deported for a simple traffic violation.
“A routine traffic stop should not end in the deportation or destruction of families,” he said.
Noticeably absent from Tuesday’s announcement were the Republican leaders of the Illinois House and Illinois Senate, but Democrats control both chambers, so – if they’re united in support for the measure – could pass it without any Republican votes, should Republican lawmakers oppose it.