Illinois may grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants

CHICAGO Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:16pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois may soon become the most populous U.S. state to grant a form of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, after the nation's growing Hispanic population boosted the power of Democrats in national and state elections on November 6.

A bipartisan group of Illinois politicians announced on Tuesday they would propose such a law when the legislature convenes on November 27.

Washington state and New Mexico are the only states that currently allow illegal immigrants to get licenses. Utah allows driving permits. As the fifth most populous state, Illinois would be the biggest state to adopt such a law.

A California law that allows immigrants with federal work permits to receive driver's licenses will take effect January 1, 2013.

Supporters said the law would be good for public safety, allowing Illinois immigrant motorists to get tested on their driving skills and buy insurance.

"When you have a quarter of a million undocumented drivers on the road, it's definitely a safety concern," said Ron Holmes, spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who is backing the measure along with fellow Democrats Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar, a popular Republican, joined Democrats at a news conference in Chicago Tuesday to support the idea, as did Republican State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. It also has the support of the powerful House Speaker, Chicago Democrat Michael Madigan, giving it a good chance of passage.

The drive to pass the law follows the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate and in the Illinois legislature with strong Hispanic support.

Since 2010, a handful of Republican-led states, notably border state Arizona, passed laws cracking down on illegal immigrants. But after this year's election, which saw an estimated 66 percent of Hispanics vote for Obama, Democrats and Republicans have said they want to work on an overhaul of federal immigration law.

Illinois, like California, elected a veto-proof Democratic supermajority in the legislature this month, with Democrats now controlling all branches of government.

Unlicensed, uninsured drivers are involved in almost 80,000 accidents in Illinois each year, resulting in $660 million in damage, according to the Illinois Highway Safety Coalition. Unlicensed immigrant drivers cost $64 million in damage claims alone.

The Safety Coalition said on its website that since New Mexico made the change in 2003, the rate of uninsured motorists fell from 33 percent to under 9 percent.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, has fought to outlaw such licenses since she took office in January 2011. She has argued that the state's law encouraged people to come to New Mexico from other states just to obtain driver's licenses.

Holmes said supporters of the Illinois measure are talking with law enforcement officials to make sure a license for undocumented immigrants would not be used for fraud.

The measure would expand to undocumented immigrants Illinois' existing temporary visitor driver's license, used by legal immigrants. The licenses are "visually distinct" from ordinary licenses, with a purple background and the words "not valid for identification" on the front, explained Lawrence Benito, chief executive of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

"This is a practical, commonsense approach," said Benito. He said supporters have been talking with Republicans in the legislature to try to get their support.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the number of Latinos in Illinois was over 2 million, or nearly 16 percent of the population.

Republicans in Illinois who have objected to the proposed law in the past could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (7)
joelwisch2 wrote:
Since 2010, a handful of Republican-led states, notably border state Arizona, passed laws cracking down on illegal immigrants. But after this year’s election, which saw an estimated 66 percent of Hispanics vote for Obama
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With the old ways, you went through Immigration and got your identification and, everyone knew you were legal. This way, you walk in with some sort of document which may well be forged, and you get your Illinois Drivers License. In States such as California where they have made efforts to provide State I.D.s which allow driving, the result according to those who looked was… they did not get insurance. They are at the lowest end of the wages totem pole and they cannot afford it.

So long as those folks with the forged I.D.s do not have to go through Immigration to enter this country, they can drop that fake I.D. and go where they might want. The purpose of the I.D. works against the safety of the American People. The purpose of the I.D.s is to maintain low wages and as some suggest, maintain the legal slave labor of the illegal aliens. It is morally wrong to allow either circumstance if you are a representative of the people in an elective office.

Nov 20, 2012 8:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
AZWarrior wrote:
Well, Illinois drivers licenses can not now be used to board aircraft now per the TSA. Well done idiots. Also, now Arizona will not recognize Illinois driver’s licenses as proof of citizenship.

Nov 20, 2012 8:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
FatherJames wrote:
…I am all for *legal* immigrants. But what of all of those people who obey our laws and wait in line for their turn to come here legally? Are they just suckers?
…If employers need labor from across the border… have them issued proper documents to work, pay taxes, and drive during their permitted stay.
…But politicians have gummed this up. Masses of illegal immigrants were “amnestied…” Then *their* relatives came in the back door… Now some cities (said to include Chicago and San Francisco) into letting undocumented aliens vote in local elections.
…We no longer control our borders… and proposals from the Left are feeble and from the Right insanely draconian.
…Meanwhile, those immigrants who abide by our laws and wait their turn have no political clout…

Nov 20, 2012 8:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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