(MCT) — As many as 250,000 illegal immigrants would be able to get a special Illinois driver's license under legislation that appears likely to pass the state Senate next week.
Even though debate over a national immigration policy is still festering in Washington, Senate President John Cullerton maintained that Illinois needs the driver's license legislation to make the state's roads safer. The bill would set up the same driving and testing requirements for illegal immigrants that citizens getting a standard license face.
"It seems to me that we are better off having folks tested, make sure they know how to drive, make sure they take driver's ed, make sure they have vision (tests) so they can see, make sure they have insurance rather than having so many of them driving illegally because of necessity," said Cullerton, D-Chicago.
The measure cleared the Senate Executive Committee on a 12-2 vote. Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont acknowledged that the issue engenders a "lot of emotion" but said the state should "pull the trigger" because of the federal government's inaction.
If the legislation becomes law, Illinois would join New Mexico and Washington state in having a form of driver's license for illegal immigrants.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week and send the bill to the House, which likely would take it up in early January. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn support the bill.
The proposal would allow illegal immigrants to apply for three-year licenses, which would be a different color than a regular driver's license. The license could not be used for identification purposes, such as for boarding a plane, buying a gun or voting. To get one, a person would have to have lived in Illinois for at least a year — a provision that would require applicants to provide a copy of a lease, utility bills or other proof of residency.
Under current law, people without a Social Security number or proper documentation cannot get a license and often have trouble securing car insurance if they try to get it, Cullerton said. The proposal will not require an illegal immigrant to have insurance before applying for a license because insurance is tied to a vehicle, and it already is illegal to drive an uninsured car.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran testified in favor of the bill, saying illegal immigrants are driving to schools, stores and church even when they don't have licenses.
"Ultimately," Curran said, "law enforcement would much rather go after the bad guys and not just people that are trying to get to work and school."
Republican Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon questioned whether the special license really would not be able to be used for identification purposes. Righter said the bill contains a number of "Catch-22s," such as when a hospital would use one of the cards to identify a patient.
"You want to find out who it is you're dealing with, but that document's not supposed to be used to tell you who you're dealing with," Righter said.