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BREAKING: The Illinois State House has just passed the state’s immigrant driver’s licenses bill, 65-46. Today is the last day of the legislative session and the last chance to pass the bill in the current term. The bill, which has already been passed by the Senate, now goes to Governor Pat Quinn, who has already said that he will sign it. Congratulations to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights–which has spent years organizing for this victory, and the other groups who have worked hard for this moment!
The bill will allow 250,000 undocumented immigrants in the state to apply for a driver’s license and legally drive, once they are tested, registered, licensed, and insured. Illinois will now join New Mexico and Washington as states that allow undocumented immigrants to drive.
Original post: This week, Connecticut decided to start allowing young aspiring Americans who have received papers from President Obama’s deferred action (DACA) program to apply for driver’s licenses, joining states like California, Florida, and Nevada. As a New York Times editorial today notes:
[I]t makes perfect sense, if only for public-safety reasons: people need to drive to work, and they should follow the law and be demonstrably competent, registered and insured.
The editorial continues: “But with the politics of immigration, nothing is ever that simple.”
President Obama’s deferred action (DACA) program recognizes these young DREAMers by protecting them from deportation and granting them access to work permits. As many states have reasoned, this form of ID can be used to apply for and obtain a state driver’s license. There are states–like Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, and Iowa–that have specifically withheld driver’s licenses to DACA-recognized DREAMers, and as Thomas Saenz (the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) once told NPR: “There’s really no legal or constitutional support for” these states withholding licenses. Such decisions are “rhetorical political move[s] that a number of these states are engaging in.”
The New York Times editorial also recognizes states that extend driver’s license eligibility to all their undocumented residents. Illinois is at this moment considering such a bill, reasoning that immigrants already drive in order to get to work, school, the doctor’s office, the grocery store. It only makes sense to test, register, license, and insure these drivers in order to make roads safer for all motorists. The only excuses for denying that logic are political:
New Mexico and Washington…already grant licenses to all qualified drivers regardless of immigration status; Utah issues driver permits to people who cannot prove they are here legally.
Those states have taken the broader, wiser course — extending responsibility and accountability over a shadow population.
The Illinois Legislature is considering a bill to allow the undocumented to receive temporary driver’s licenses, a move that Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago has endorsed. Granting driver’s licenses to the undocumented has been a radioactive issue politically. Here’s hoping that the administration’s program calms things down, and that more states see the wisdom of making the roads as safe and regulated as possible.
TODAY is the last day of the Illinois legislative session, which means the immigrant driver’s license bill there must pass today. The state House is only a handful of votes short. If you live in Illinois, please help us make the difference: contact your state representative right now.