By Meredith Colias
Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated he will sign a bill into law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary driver's licenses.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Democrat from Chicago, framed the measure as a matter of public safety.
“It’s a commonsense bill that seeks to improve the safety of our roads and ensure that all motorists can be trained, tested, licensed and insured,” he said.
Senate Bill 957, which passed the House today, 65-46, and the Senate in December, would allow an estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers living in Illinois to obtain temporary driver’s licenses valid for three years. Applicants would be required to take vision and driving tests and carry valid car insurance. Drivers caught without insurance would have their licenses revoked.
To obtain a temporary license, an applicant would need to show a passport or consular identification documents and provide proof that they have lived in the state for at least one year.
Opponents said the measure does not contain enough safeguards against fraud because it would not require applicants to be fingerprinted or provide a tax identification number to obtain the license and would reward those already breaking immigration laws.
Acevedo acknowledged the fingerprinting concerns and said he would be willing to work with opponents on future legislation.
Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, was concerned that undocumented immigrants from outside the state would find a way to falsify documents and skirt the residency requirement. That is something he said has happened in New Mexico, a state that currently offers licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“We have no idea how long they’ve lived here,” he said of potential applicants in Illinois.
Supporters said that they think the residency requirement is stringent enough to keep residents of other states from getting Illinois licenses. However, Nathan Maddox, senior legal advisor for Secretary of State Jesse White, acknowledged the office would not be able to determine at the time of application if an undocumented driver had previously committed an offense, like a DUI, out of state. Applicants who have already been suspended from driving in Illinois would have to start serving their suspension once they obtained a license regardless of when they committed the violation.
Others argued that the state should not address immigration, which is a federal issue.
“We are ... engaging in activities the U.S. government should be taking [on] themselves,” said Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon.
Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, said the state should not “provide privileges for people who are not citizens here.”
While the bill had several Republican detractors, it did receive bipartisan support.
House Minority Leader Tom Cross said he believed technical issues cited were not sufficient to oppose the bill. “We have a number of folks in this state ... that are here illegally, and we need to address it,” he said.
Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, said he thought the bill was imperfect but voted in favor of the measure. “What I focus on is public safety. … The reality is it’s a start,” he said.
"People come to this country for the American dream. We can offer them that today,” Acevedo said on the House floor.
The bill will take effect 10 months after receiving Quinn’s signature. “Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely,” he said in a prepared statement.