Drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants may be coming to Illinois

In the past week, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, over two dozen Chicago aldermen, and Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran all came out in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Update:  after I put up this blog post, the Sun-Times now reports that “In a nearly unprecedented show of support, Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar, GOP state comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) plan to sign on to the immigrant-rights driving initiative and attend Tuesday’s news conference in support of it.”

Then today I heard from a downstate attorney that the Secretary of State is working on a rule change that would allow undocumented immigrants just that.

This would be a major change to the current situation.  As a traffic attorney, I regularly see crowded courtrooms full of people who have been charged with driving without a license or driving while suspended (suspended because of previous instances of driving without a license), all because they live and work here without proper legal documents and cannot obtain a license.  Even worse, if a person gets a DUI while “undocumented” and thus doesn’t possess a valid driver’s license, he or she is facing a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

In addition, a person who does not have a valid driver’s license cannot obtain liability insurance.  This means that anyone who is injured by an undocumented driver will have difficulty obtaining compensation.

According to one news report:  “Illinois is home to an estimated 250,000 immigrant motorists who can’t get licensed because they lack Social Security numbers, according to the coalition, which states that unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents in Illinois each year at a cost of $660 million in damage claims.”

According to the Sun-Times:

The state legislation they’re pushing would offer what Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called “economic empowerment” to undocumented immigrants by requiring all Illinois drivers to be trained, tested, licensed and insured.

That includes undocumented immigrants. They would no longer have to fear being pulled over for driving without a license and getting dragged into the deportation dragnet that has deprived more than 56,000 Illinois children one or both parents.

“This is really, what we call a ‘triple bottom line issue.’ It’s a justice issue. It’s a safety issue. And it’s an economic issue,” Moreno said.

“We’ve got thousands of our fellow citizens driving on the streets, going to work, taking their kids to school that don’t have the proper licensing.”

If there was a time for this change, now seems to be the time, as all the pundits are busy pontificating about the growing importance of Hispanic voters.  This is making some legislators soften their previous anti-“illegal immigrant” stance.  If so, it will greatly reduce the costs and strain on the courts and police departments, although it will also reduce the revenue streams that arise from impoundments, forfeitures and fines.

It will also be interesting to see whether undocumented people will be able to overcome their inclination to avoid government officials and show up at a Secretary of State office to provide information including their name, date of birth and home address in order to get a driver’s license.

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