The Illinois General Assembly passed a bill yesterday that will grant temporary drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, moving the bill to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL) who plans to sign it into law. The legislation passed due to the tireless work of advocates like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), the support of pro-immigrant lawmakers and the clearly articulated benefits of the policy to public safety in Illinois.
However, the passage of the legislation also provides an important reminder about the changed nature of immigration reform ahead of the 2013 debate in Congress – common sense immigration policies are on the rise.
As Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice Education Fund said:
That a major state moved forward on drivers licenses is another reminder that it’s a new day for the immigration debate. In the late 1990s and early George W. Bush administration, granting drivers licenses was seen as a step toward normalizing the situation of undocumented immigrants on the way to eventual legalization. Then, after September 11, 2001, the ramp-up of immigration enforcement and the contentious battles over reform legislation in the mid-2000s meant that advocates for pro-reform policies such as granting drivers licenses were thrown on the defensive. Illinois deserves credit for enacting sensible policy and for providing another reminder that pro-immigration policies are on offense.
The evolution of Chicago Mayor and former Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel on immigration politics embodies the changed nature of the debate. Six years ago, then Congressman Emanuel called immigration “the third rail of American politics. And anyone who doesn’t realize that isn’t with the American people.” Yesterday, at a pro-drivers license rally in Chicago, Mayor Emanuel stated, “We have been clear in setting a national pattern…This will be noticed around the country. This is a great accomplishment to allow people on a very practical basis to take their kids to school, places of worship and get themselves to work.”
Mayor Emanuel also put the news in its proper national context ahead of the 2013 immigration debate in Congress, saying “I want to take this victory, savor what it is and use it as the energy to move and bring comprehensive immigration reform.”
While Illinois’ move points the way toward the future of immigration reform, there unfortunately remain states, groups, and individuals that insist on digging in their heels. Forget driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants–Jan Brewer’s Arizona, as well as Steve King’s Iowa and a few other states have refused to grant driver’s licenses even to young DREAMers who have been recognized by President Obama’s deferred action (DACA) program. States like California, Florida, and Nevada have allowed these aspiring Americans to apply for licenses, reasoning that individuals who are allowed to work should be allowed to drive. But political reasons–and anti-immigrant spite–have left Arizona, Iowa, etc. on the wrong side of progress. Thankfully, this victory in Illinois signifies that progress will move on without them.
Concluded Sharry, “The news from Illinois is yet another sign that the time is right for immigration reform that puts 11 million immigrants on the road to citizenship.”