SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate today approved legislation that would allow tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to have special drivers licenses, but the bill’s fate in the House is still up in the air.
The proposal, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, would allow an estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois to be eligible for the special, three-year licenses to drive a vehicle. With Congress and the White House unable to reach agreement on the overall issue of how to deal with immigration, Cullerton argued the state needs to address safety on public highways now.
Cullerton said it “makes sense” to have people tested and trained in the rules of Illinois roadways rather than go without licenses of any kind.
“We will definitely save lives by passing this bill,” Cullerton said.
But Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, spoke stoutly against granting driving privileges to people who are breaking the law by being in the country illegally. Moving Illinois into this territory, Lauzen said, would mean “we have the cart before the horse.”
The Senate approved the bill 41-14, with one lawmaker voting present. (See how they voted by clicking here.) Now it goes to the House, which could take up the issue in early January.
Lawrence Benito, who heads the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said he is still tallying the votes in the House, where a similar proposal passed five years ago.
The special license would be different in color from a regular driving license. It could not officially be used for identification purposes, such as for boarding a plane, buying a gun or voting. To get a special license, a person would have to live within Illinois for at least a year—a provision that would require applicants to provide a copy of a lease, utility bills or other proof or residency.
Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said there is no “perfect solution” for the driving license issue in Illinois when the overall of immigration debate is still unresolved. But she said the Illinois legislation represented a good-faith effort to tackle the public policy problem of people driving on the roads without authority.
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