Illinois has moved one step closer to approving provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Some advocates are hailing the legislation, while others warn it could make it easier to target who is in this country without papers.
The Senate voted 41-14 this week in favor of the bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive a three-year, renewable license after passing a driving test and showing proof of liability insurance.
“The highway safety legislation is a good first step and proof that both parties can put the politics of fear and scapegoating aside and work on practical solutions that keep our roads and families safe,” said Lawrence Benito , CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Others aren’t so sure. Guillermo Gomez with the Alliance for Immigrant Rights argues that going half-way towards a license may be even more dangerous for immigrants than not having one at all.
“A different color, temporary ID signals you out as a person that does not have any legal status here,” said Gomez, whose group sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn opposing the bill. “Why not go all the way and give them a full driver’s license instead of setting them up for a potential violation of their civil rights.”
Much of Illinois is under a program called Secure Communities. It allows local law enforcement agents to share fingerprints of people they’ve arrested with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which could then place those people under deportation proceedings.
A Chicago Reporter investigation found 876 people from Illinois who were booked into immigration custody under Secure Communities between Nov. 24, 2009, and July 25, 2011 were charged with only one misdemeanor. In many cases this came from a traffic violation, the analysis found.
Under the current law, "stopping an immigrant for driving without a working light could turn into a deportation,” said Luis Gutierrez, executive director of Latinos Progresando.
Another group opposing the bill is the Safer Families Coalition. It released an ad before the Senate’s Tuesday vote that focused on an undocumented immigrant who bribed an official to get a license and then was involved in an accident that killed six children of the Willis family. The corruption scandal ballooned to ensnare several politicians, including former Gov. George Ryan. The coalition argued the bill could allow a similar licenses-for-bribes scandal to happen.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers considered a bill to give licenses to immigrants.
A similar bill passed the House in 2007 that would have allowed the Secretary of State to use individual tax numbers issued by the IRS instead of a social security number to identify applicants for licenses. Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are regularly used by immigrants regardless of their immigration status. The bill didn’t make it out of the Senate.
The House has until Jan. 8 to vote on the latest drivers licenses bill.
*image by epSos.de