By Jamey Dunn
An Illinois Senate committee today approved a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants access to temporary driver's licenses.
Senate Bill 957 would give immigrants who are in the country illegally a chance to get temporary Illinois driver's licenses. Such licenses are already available in Illinois to immigrants who lack a Social Security number but have proof that they are in the country legally. The legislation would extend the licenses, which are valid for three years, to immigrants who cannot provide documentation of legal status.
Proponents say the measure would make the state’s roadways safer and allow immigrants to purchase legally required insurance. “I think that while the issue of immigration is being debated on the national level, in the meantime we care about the safety of our highways in the state,” said Senate President John Cullerton, who is sponsoring the bill.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, Jr. said the measure recognizes the reality that an estimated 250,000 immigrants are driving in the state without licenses or insurance. "These people are not going to be deported. They’re here, and they need to get to work.” He said that those drivers would be safer if they are tested on driving skills and given the eye exam required to obtain a license. “All drivers on the road are safer when they are trained, tested, licensed and insured.”
Curran said the bill would “ease the burden on jails and courts” and policy that have to deal with immigrants picked up for driving without a license. “Ultimately, law enforcement would rather go after the bad guys.”
The licenses would only be available to residents who can prove they have lived in Illinois for a year. Sponsors say that provision is meant to prevent immigrants from neighboring states coming to Illinois to obtain licenses.
The licenses would have a different appearance than standard driver’s licenses and could not be used for identification or commercial driving. After three years, holders could reapply for another temporary license, and there is no limit on the number of times they could reapply. If a driver with one of the licenses does not have legally required liability insurance, his or her license would no longer be valid.
Esther Corpuz, regional vice president of governmental and community affairs for Vanguard Health Systems in Chicago, says the provision would also help those in the medical community because often, undocumented patients do not have any form of identification. “In the case of first responders, this is a big issue, making sure that we know who we are caring for.”
However, Sen. Dale Righter said Corpuz’s statement highlights a problem with the proposal. While the bill says that the licenses cannot be used as identification, in practice, they likely would be.
“The bill specifically states that the permits will not be used to identify who the person is. ... It can’t be used for identification. Period,” said Righter, a Republican from Mattoon. “That’s one of the catch-22s in the bill. You want to use it to find out who you are dealing with, but that document is not supposed to be used to find out who you are dealing with.”’
Corpuz said, “At the end of the day .. .in emergency situations, we need to know who we are caring for.”
Bloomington Republican Sen. Bill Brady, who said he helped draft the identification provision in the bill, said it was intended to keep the licenses from being used for specific transactions that involve government regulation or security concerns. He says the restriction is in the bill “so the document could not be used falsely for the purchase of firearms, boarding airplanes or voting.”
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said that if the bill becomes law, legislators should monitor the system and watch for fraud or misuse. However, with the lack of federal immigration reform to guide states, she said the bill is necessary. “We’re placed in this situation because of the inaction of the federal government,” she said. “I think we have taken steps to ensure that there is as little fraud as possible. ... It may not be perfect, but I think the time has come.”
Supporters say they expect the bill to be called for a floor vote in the Senate next week.