House OKs illegal immigrant driver's licenses; bill goes to Quinn


SPRINGFIELD -- Illegal immigrants will be able to obtain driver’s licenses under legislation that passed the Illinois House Tuesday. Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated he will sign it.

Illinois is in line to become the fourth state to allow illegal immigrants to obtain temporary driver’s licenses. New Mexico, Utah and Washington state already have such laws.

The measure, Senate Bill 957, passed the House on a 65-46 vote.

With an estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age in Illinois, the legislation was long overdue, said Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor.

“I think Illinois has sent a great message to the immigrant community and the rest of the country,” Acevedo said.

The legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who have resided in Illinois for more than a year to apply for temporary licenses. Supporters said the licenses will give undocumented individuals the ability to safely drive to work or school.

Applicants would be required to have their photos taken to be placed into a statewide digital database.

Opponents questioned why fingerprinting wasn’t included in the legislation to further deter identity fraud.

“Fingerprinting will at least help us identify people. … It’s very hard to understand why we don’t have it,” said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst.

Fingerprinting would “place too much of a burden” on the secretary of state’s office, which will be responsible for implementing the program, Acevedo said.

The temporary licenses would be the same licenses already granted to extended-stay Illinois visitors who are foreign-born and in the U.S. legally. But in this case, the temporary licenses for undocumented immigrants would note in capital letters that they are not acceptable as proof of identity, including for the purpose of boarding airplanes or buying guns. The licenses would be valid for three years. Applicants also would not be eligible to apply for Social Security numbers.

The federal government’s failure to reform immigration laws is reason enough for state lawmakers to act, said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

“Can we just sit here and say, ‘We’re not going to do anything?’” Cross said. “Are we going to sit here and just continuously blame the federal government for their lack of action?”

Supporters called the measure “a highway safety bill” because undocumented immigrants would be required to a pass vision and driving tests, as well as buy car insurance, as other Illinois residents are required to do before obtaining their regular licenses.

Quinn said the bill would save Illinois motorists $46 million per year in insurance premiums by ensuring that more drivers are properly insured.

“More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers,” the governor said in a statement. “Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely.”

The legislation will take effect 10 months after being signed into law. It would cost the secretary of state’s office roughly $800,000 the first year and $250,000 each additional year, Acevedo said.

Opponents repeatedly asked Acevedo whether he will add fingerprinting in follow-up legislation. Acevedo said he will discuss the idea.

“I gave my word. My word is my bond, and I will sit down and talk to the individuals,” he said.

Lauren Leone-Cross can be reached at (217) 782-6292.

The bill is SB957.