Springfield, Ill. – The Land of Lincoln will become the third state, behind New Mexico and Washington, to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.
The proposed law breezed through the Illinois House and Senate with bipartisan support, giving 250,000 undocumented immigrants in the state opportunity to have a valid temporary driver’s license.
The licenses cannot be used as a form of government identification.
Supporters say the new law will improve highway safety by decreasing the number of traffic deaths on Illinois roads. Late this afternoon, Gov. Pat Quinn praised lawmakers for passing the bill: “More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers. Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely.”
Eligible applicants are required to live in Illinois for at least a year, show proof of residence and make an appointment with the Department of Motor Vehicles to fill out necessary paperwork.
Immigrant advocate Cristobal Cavazos said the new law will be ineffective and only goes to show that systemic change of the nation’s immigration system is still badly needed.
“You're giving all your information over to the same institution that is targeting you, so there is a mistrust. There’s going to be a concern there. And there's going to be a hesitation if there’s not a legalization,” he said. “People are afraid to come out of the shadows because they are not documented.”
New Mexico and Washington already have similar laws in place. However, New Mexico’s GOP Gov. Susana Martinez has been fighting to repeal the law, citing security and fraud concerns. A researcher at New Mexico State University said the new law should equate into increased road safety.
"We've ranked one or two as being one of the worst states for uninsured motorists and in that regard...we found very little improvement,” said Tim Query, who teaches business at NMSU.
Most Illinois law enforcement agencies support the new law. In Lake County, north of Chicago, the population is 21 percent Latino and 28 percent of people stopped for traffic violations have no valid driver’s licenses.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses will have a significant impact.
“When you have this many law enforcement hours that are tied up -- officers on the side of the road, waiting for a tow, an officer’s manpower could be off the road for about an hour. So, does it have consequences in terms of the safety of the larger community, absolutely it does,” Curran says.
Governor Quinn plans to sign the bill into law as soon as possible.