Politicians and locals support driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

2012-11-01T13:21:00Z 2012-11-01T21:49:14Z Politicians and locals support driver's licenses for undocumented immigrantsMariam Khan Medill News Service nwitimes.com
November 01, 2012 1:21 pm  • 

They don't have the basic documents most Americans have — a Social Security card, a driver's license, a birth certificate. With no official documentation declaring their right to citizenship, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Illinois are also driving illegally: unlicensed and uninsured.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants the right to a driver's license.

"I think it's so important to protect the (immigrants) of Illinois, and it's important to protect the (immigrants) who just need to use the car to go to and from work, to and from school, and to and from the doctor," said Acevedo at a recent immigrant rights rally. "I'm hoping to bring the bill up in veto session if I have enough votes," Acevedo said. Veto session will take place Nov. 27-Dec. 6.

Democratic Party leaders U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Gov. Pat Quinn were also at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights rally, and threw their support behind the proposed legislation.

Gutierrez, D-Chicago, who often spoke in Spanish to the majority-Latino attendees, said he would not allow families to be destroyed due to anti-immigration sentiments and laws.

"Isn't it wonderful. A day does not go by when young, undocumented immigrants here in the city of Chicago are getting their work permits?" said Gutierrez. "Isn't it wonderful to live in a state where we're going to be able to sign up and get a driver's license and finally be free to travel among us like everyone else?" Chants of "Si se puede!" or "Yes we can!" erupted several times during the course of his speech.

Dozens of groups and elected officials are advocating for the passage of the bill.

Current licensing law prevents approximately 250,000 immigrants in Illinois from driving legally because they do not have a Social Security number, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, commonly known as ICIRR. The organization is a statewide coalition of more than 130 groups dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees.

Working closely with the Asian-American Institute, the Muslim Women's Resource Center, Indo-American Center, and the Hamdard Center, ICIRR is a huge advocate for driver's license reform. The rally pushed for licensing reform and called on immigrants to get out and vote. Several hundred people attended the event at Teamster Local 705 Auditorium, 300 S. Ashland Ave.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport," Quinn said. "Our candidates, who believe in immigration reform, who believe in the DREAM Act, who believe in driver's license reform, they're all on the ballot. We're counting on you," he said.

According to ICIRR, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 76,000 accidents each year, costing licensed drivers $630 million in damage claims. Nationwide, unlicensed motorists are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than licensed drivers, ICIRR says.

As more drivers get insured, the number of accidents involving uninsured motorists will decline, as well as the cost of the accidents.

"For any Illinois resident supporting driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, it's a pathway for improved public safety. We know they'll know the rules of the road, that they'll be qualified to drive vehicles, and importantly, they'll be able to get insurance," said Kathleen Fernicola, policy director at the Asian-American Institute.

Proponents argue that further benefits of giving undocumented drivers a license include allowing the police to identity motorists during stops and check their traffic records. First responders will be able to use the license to identify individuals they are assisting. Drivers will also be more likely to stay at the scene of an accident to aid police and emergency workers and exchange information with other affected motorists.

"Driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants are absolutely going to happen," said Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. "I'll continue to fight for truth and I'll continue to fight for you all."

ICIRR argues that there will be less jail crowding and court involvement if the bill is passed; there will no longer be cases of drivers who are in custody solely for driving without a license or insurance.

Despite the seemingly long list of benefits, some remain neutral on the issue.

"We have not taken a stance on the bill," said Dave Druker, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White. "It's a controversial issue, and there are strong feelings on both sides."

Druker said if the bill passes in the Illinois General Assembly, and should Gov. Pat Quinn sign the bill into law, the secretary of state's office will be more than happy to comply with the law. "I have great respect for the proponents of the bill," Druker said.

Washington, New Mexico, and California are the only states that have passed laws allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit, but it can't be used as identification.

"All of you who gather here tonight, you know what's at stake," Durbin said. "There is one person in America who can help us. Only one, and we went to that person, because we know him and he knows you. And his name is Barack Obama," he said.

While some states have firmly regulated illegal immigration, Illinois and the city of Chicago continue to make the state a more immigrant-friendly place to live.

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