Lawmakers in Springfield are drafting legislation that would provide a way for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. The bill has not been introduced in the General Assembly, but legislators expect to make the proposal soon.
This is not the first time our state lawmakers have tried to legalize undocumented aliens on the road. A similar proposal has been defeated twice already. But this time, the bill has support from Democrats and Republicans.
The bill is touted as a public safety measure in that it would bring an estimated 250,000 people into legal status requiring a driving test and insurance coverage.
The Chicago Tribune asserted that the proposed law is a response to the November 2012 election that saw record turnout of Latino voters.
Politicians held a press conference to support the bill on November 20, 2012. Supporters in attendance included Senator John Cullerton, Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as Republican Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and former Governor Jim Edgar.
The broad outline of the proposal calls for expanding an existing program that provides temporary driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in Illinois legally. Under that program, foreign students and family members of temporary workers and long-term visitors can qualify for licenses that are valid for three years with the proper immigration paperwork.
That would be tweaked to allow illegal immigrants to qualify for the temporary licenses if they can provide a valid passport or identification card issued by a consulate, plus proof of Illinois residency. Applicants must pass a vision, written and road test and obtain insurance. The licenses could not be used as a form of identification.
Similar legislation passed out of the House in 2007 but stalled in the Senate. That measure also required applicants to be fingerprinted, a point that is still under negotiation in the latest proposal.
If the measure passes, Illinois would join Washington state and New Mexico with similar legislation on the books. Quinn has vowed to sign the proposal if it reaches his desk.
The Illinois Highway Safety Coalition says that illegal immigrants without licenses are responsible for $64 million in damages from traffic accidents in Illinois each year.
If half of the estimated 250,000 unlicensed immigrants became properly licensed and insured, Illinois insurance policy holders would save an estimated $46 million a year in premium payments. Nationwide, unlicensed motorists are five times likelier to be involved in a fatal crash than licensed drivers.
They also say that in 2011, almost 48,000 charges of driving without a license were issued in Cook County alone.
At the present time, undocumented aliens cannot obtain driver’s licenses from the Secretary of State. Every applicant for a license must have a social security number. It has been reported that stolen social security numbers can be bought for about $5,000 for use in obtaining a driver’s license.
Any person caught driving without a license will be charged with violating 625 ILCS 5/6-101. This charge is a Class B misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is 180 days jail. A conviction for driving without a license will cause the Secretary of State to suspend that person’s driving privileges. As a result, if that person is caught driving again, the offense is a higher Class A misdemeanor driving while license suspended (625 ILCS 5/6-303). The potential penalty for DWLS up to one year in jail.
Operating a motor vehicle without proof of insurance, 625 ILCS 5/3-707, is not a crime but still has serious consequences. The law requires a $500 fine and a conviction causes the Secretary of State to suspended that person’s license.