Illegal immigrants await green lights for temporary licenses

By Will Hager

Illinois is on the verge of becoming the most populous state to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary driver’s licenses in an effort to boost safety and reduce traffic accidents statewide.

SB957 cleared both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives, leaving it in the hands of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to decide whether to sign it into law. The legislation will be effective 10 months after it is signed, which Quinn has pledged to do, according to a Jan. 8  Chicago Sun-Times report.

New Mexico and Washington state have both passed similar legislation, but Illinois would be the first state since 2003 to legitimize undocumented immigrant drivers if the legislation becomes law. Under the legislation, Illinois would allow a maximum of 250,000 immigrants to obtain licenses, a limit determined by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights based on the number of unlicensed illegal immigrants living in the state. In 2010, there were 550,000 illegal immigrants living in Illinois, according to the U.S. census.

Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago, said the bill would provide illegal immigrants peace of mind when it comes to transportation.

“For our constituency, it’s an opportunity for them to drive without the fear of being pulled over and not having a license, which can create a whole bunch of domino effects,” Rodriguez said. “For others, it’s about being able to travel and go to work without that fear.”

Illegal immigrants who have been living in the state for a minimum of one year will be eligible to obtain a temporary driver’s license that will be valid for three years. According to the bill, the temporary licenses may not be accepted as proof of identity and cannot be used to purchase a gun,

an airplane ticket or to enter a

federal building.

To obtain a license, undocumented immigrants will have to pay $30, show proof of insurance, provide a passport or consular ID and pass a written, visual and physical

driving exam.

The licenses carry the same legal weight as temporary visitor driver’s license that the state currently extended to individuals with legal    immigration status.

Nilda Esparza, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, said some undocumented immigrants worry the special temporary licenses will make them susceptible to detainment, but she thinks the legislation is a step in the right direction.

“It’s hopeful knowing that these individuals can now drive to and from work safely,” Esparza said. “It was definitely assuring that things are being done at the policy level to move these issues forward.”

In a Dec. 4 press release, Quinn said the bill encourages safety and will save Illinois motorists $46 million annually on insurance premiums. The Illinois Highway Safety Coalition estimates that unlicensed immigrant drivers are responsible for $64 million in damage claims each year, with unlicensed drivers accounting for 42 percent of all fatal crashes in Illinois.

William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, an organization focused on border security, said he opposes the bill because it would validate the presence of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

“Licenses for illegal aliens encourages more illegal immigration, legitimizes illegal aliens and helps them take American jobs [and]        tax payer resources and other benefits that should be reserved for American citizens and legal immigrants,” Gheen said.

Carolina Cruz,  2012 journalism major and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at Columbia, said illegal immigrants will not be assimilated into America until they have full citizenship.

“For you to feel like you’re accepted by society, you have to feel like you’re really there, like you count, like your voice counts, like you matter,” Cruz said. “I think that won’t happen completely until all the millions of people who are undocumented finally have a pathway to citizenship.”

Chicago’s immigration issues extend beyond the debate surrounding undocumented motorists, Rodriguez said. According to him, illegal immigrants endure a lack of human rights on a daily basis.

“We have families and children coming to our doors crying in trauma because … either the father or mother are detained,” Rodriguez said. “Because it is not on the news every single day, we are not talking at all about human rights violations and this humanitarian crisis       that’s happening.”

The signing of the license legislation would go a long way in reshaping the public’s appreciation of new immigrants, according to Esparza.

“We have to remember that our city was built by immigrants, [and] immigrants continue to maintain and sustain our local economy,” Esparza said. “I think being able to be a part of a bigger society would definitely change the public’s perception [of all illegal immigrants].”