For hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois, getting behind the wheel just got a little less scary.
The Illinois House has passed legislation that will allow an estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants get a valid drivers license. The vote on Tuesday was followed by applause and celebratory shouts, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This is a historic vote, and ... is going to help the community very much” said Jose Vera, a community organizer with the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, a nonprofit that focuses on improving immigrants' quality of life. “People that are driving to work, driving to church, are not going to be afraid anymore than anytime they drive they are going to be deported.”
In Bolingbrook, where the nonprofit Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project is based, the vote came with another victory: The mayor and police chief also supported the measure.
Advocates have been trying to get the legislation passed for the past 10 years, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
In Chicago’s suburbs, 74 percent of McHenry County Jail inmates who were put under immigration holds between January 2010 and 2011 were brought to the jail for a minor traffic violation, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation. Each of those inmates had two or more charges, with the first one being for infractions such as speeding, and another was for not having a valid driver's license.
Alicia, an undocumented immigrant who drives to work, told the Reporter in November that if she had a license, “I would be able to go out freely” instead of being constantly in fear.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to a crowd at a press conference on new legislation that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a Temporary Visitor Driver's License. Photo by Jonathan Gibby.
Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement that he looks forward to signing the legislation.
“I want to commend members of the Illinois House for their bipartisan passage of legislation that will help ensure every Illinois motorist is properly licensed and empower more immigrants to become stronger contributors to our economy," he said.