Undocumented immigrants will soon be able to apply for temporary driver's licenses in Illinois.
A bill was passed by the state legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. It makes Illinois the fourth state to grant licenses or permits to the undocumented.
Washington state and New Mexico allow drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, and Utah provides driving permits.
Many advocates in the immigrant rights community are championing this law.
But it is important to note that this special class of driver's license does not protect the immigrant from deportation and they cannot be used as an official IDs.
The license itself is called a Temporary Visitor Driver's License. It had been previously issued to immigrants without Social Security numbers but who were lawfully in the United States. By the fall, the undocumented will be able to apply for them if they can show proof they have lived in Illinois a year and pay a $30 fee.
It will make Illinois roads safer knowing that the undocumented who apply for the license will have to pass a driver's test and also secure auto insurance for their cars.
Beyond that it's hard to see any other benefit from the licenses.
They are a different color, purple instead of red. Across the license it reads, "Not Valid for Identification." It can't be used to board a plane or enter a federal building.
If an undocumented immigrant in the suburbs or downstate Illinois is pulled over by police for any reason and they show this license, the law enforcement officer will now have some indication that the person may be undocumented.
Undocumented immigrants often fear that police will ask for their papers or an ID. But showing this temporary license that is different from a regular license may only raise suspicions.
Police departments outside Chicago that participate in immigration enforcement programs or police officers who want to harass immigrants may be inclined to call immigration officials when they see this unofficial ID.
I understand why some immigrant advocates count this as a victory. But this really is a second-class ID that won't keep an immigrant from being deported.
It is better than having no government ID at all. But to have the undocumented carry licenses that are different from the rest of ours sends a signal that they are separate and unequal.
It's a temporary fix to a larger problem that can only be solved by the U.S. Congress and President Obama who must work towards real immigration reform this year.