By Jamey Dunn
The Illinois Senate approved a bill today to give driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, but the House may not vote on it until January.
Senate Bill 957 would give immigrants without documentation a chance to get three-year temporary Illinois driver's licenses, which are already available in Illinois to immigrants who lack a Social Security number but have proof that they are in the country legally. The measure passed today with bipartisan support. It received 41 “yes” votes and 14 votes in opposition.
Supporters frame the issue as a public safety initiative. “It seems to me that we are better off having folks tested to make sure they know how to drive, make sure that they get driver’s education, make sure that they have vision so that they can see, make sure that they have insurance rather than having so many of them drive illegally because of necessity,” said Senate President John Cullerton.
“We believe that this is a good public safety issue that ensures that our roads are safe for everyone who drives on our roads,” said Lawrence Benito, chief operating officer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Opponents said they have reservations about having to address an issue related to illegal immigration before Congress addresses immigration reform. “I am in favor of legal immigration but oppose illegal immigration. I also support efforts by the national government to finally and equitably solve the illegal immigration problem in America. However, we have the cart before the horse in the case of granting additional legal privileges to people already breaking our country’s law. The national government should act first, which then paves the way for this action,” said Aurora Republican Sen. Chris Lauzen.
But proponents argued that the state can no longer wait for Congress to act. “There’s no perfect solution. It needs to be dealt with federally. So I think this is a good example of states trying to figure out how to handle a problem that we have,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
“For me, this has been somewhat of a process of evolution, where a number of years ago I was not supportive of this bill. I think a lot of us felt like the federal government would be more aggressive and proactive on the issue of immigration, and clearly they have not,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross.
The driver’s licenses would look different from a standard-issue Illinois license, and under the legislation, they could not be used as for identification or commercial driving. Failure to buy the liability insurance required by state law would make such a license invalid.
However, Lauzen said he had doubts about whether those getting the licenses would be concerned with the legal requirement for insurance.
“And when folks say to us, 'It’s only one law, the immigration law, that’s being broken,' that is simply not accurate for tens of thousands of people who are also employed illegally, many of them driving to work, therefore breaking the traffic laws. Now we’re expected to believe that folks who are already breaking the immigration law, the employment law, the traffic laws, are now going to follow the insurance law,” he said.
But few from Lauzen’s party back his stance on the bill, which also has bipartisan support in the House. “This will, in my opinion, make our roads safer,” said Cross.
Because of procedural requirements, a vote on the bill may not come until the lame-duck session scheduled for early January. Under the standard procedure for passing legislation, a bill must be read three times in each chamber on three separate days. Tomorrow is the second opportunity to read the bill in the House and also the chamber’s last day of scheduled veto session.