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Undocumented Immigrants: Illinois Driver's License Bill Now Law, Fourth State With Policy

Categories: Immigration, News

llinois immigration coalition.jpg
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Illinois law now officially says that undocumented immigrants can legally obtain driver's licenses -- a big win for advocacy groups that argue the change is a boost for public safety and law enforcement on the roads.

Lawrence Benito, an Illinois immigration advocate, tells Daily RFT that this new policy means that hundreds of thousands of drivers in the state will be able to apply for temporary licenses. This includes immigrants just across the Mississippi River who may frequently travel to St. Louis.

And even though Missouri does not have this kind of law on the books, once immigrants receive these licenses, they will be able to drive to the state like any other licensed driver.

"This is a public safety issue," he tells us. "If we have 250,000 unlicensed immigrants on the road, this impacts everybody who shares the road."

Proponents of the measure, signed into law over the weekend, have argued that this is an important temporary fix, given that there is a large population of undocumented immigrants who are driving illegally.

See Also:
- What Do Missourians Really Think of Immigrants?
- English-Only Driver's License Tests in Missouri? House Committee Says Yes

"Law enforcement has supported this measure," says Benito, chief executive officer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "They want to know who is driving behind the wheel."

Illinois is the fourth and largest state to allow undocumented immigrants to drive -- and Benito says he is not aware of any specific effort to push a policy like this in Missouri.

But drivers who go to Missouri and have one of these licenses would be safe, he says.

"Just like any other driver, if there is some kind of infraction and they are asked to produce their driver's license, they would produce it," he says. "They would be written a ticket. And they would be sent on their way.... It would be business as usual."

Illinois Immigration advocates.jpg
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It'll be around ten months, he says, before the law is actually implemented and in the meantime, his organization is continuing to do outreach and education on the law to make sure those impacted understand how it works. Critics have raised concerns about the potential for fraud.

He points out that these are temporary licenses that are distinct from normal ones; they can't be used to board a plane or buy a gun and they aren't just given out over the counter at the DMV.

"They are only used for one thing and that is to drive," he says.

The effort ultimately received strong bipartisanship support, Benito notes.

"It's given people hope, because it's...the product of many years of organizing," he says.

While there will be contentious and complex immigration debates across the country in the coming months and years, this is about coming up with a solution to a problem immediately, Benito adds.

"Here in Illinois, legislators put the politics of fear and hate aside, and in a bipartisan fashion, came up with a commonsense solution, a practical solution...for today," he says.

More from our Immigration archive: "Wanna Be on the Presidential Ballot in Missouri? We Need to See Your Birth Certificate, Please"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@RiverfrontTimes.com.

My Voice Nation Help
15 comments
James Madison
James Madison

I think other States are going to have a tough time accepting an Illinois driver's license as a valid ID. Will an undocumented immigrant be showing a valid birth certificate? Does the average clerk at the license branch even recognize a Quebec (French) certificate? Or Brazilian (Portuguese)? Chinese? Russian? Spanish? German? Swedish? Zulu? The license branch will be issuing licenses to anyone who enters and passes the exam. I cannot do business with anyone in Illinois without knowing they are 18 years old (legal to sign a contract). Kids can get an ID claiming they are older, and yet the contract is invalid. Nope. people from Illinois will need some other form of identification if they cross the river.

Darin Gries
Darin Gries

Not no but fuck no! And they shouldn't get any benefits either.

Patrick Whitehead
Patrick Whitehead

11 million more jobs need to be created just for the immigrant reform. so how we going to do that and put Americans back to work also?

Jeri Michelle Reuter
Jeri Michelle Reuter

I think there's a lot of important details to be carefully considered first.

Leslee Brown
Leslee Brown

PAt Quinn will do anything for a potential vote

Jason A Mullens
Jason A Mullens

can i get one with out a birth certificate and SS Card? then NO!

James Wright
James Wright

WOW. come on in, break the law...........and get a drivers license.

Mike Feller
Mike Feller

So, will this documentation make them no longer "Undocumented Immigrants" and just back to plain old, "Illegal Immigrants"?

Susan Glaser
Susan Glaser

Do you think not having a driver's license prevents folks from driving? So I say yes to accountability.

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