Jan. 8, 2012 -- The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation on Tuesday that would permit unauthorized immigrants to obtain temporary drivers licenses, clearing the way for Gov. Pat Quinn (D) to sign the bill into law.
The Illinois state Senate passed the bill on Dec. 4. The lower house voted 65-46 to approve the measure.
When it becomes law, undocumented immigrants in Illinois will be able three-year renewable licenses as long as they provide proof of residency in the state. The new law could impact approximately 250,000 undocumented immigrants drivers in Illinois. Supporters argued that the bill would make the state's roads safer since applicants would have to pass driving tests and would likely be eligible to purchase insurance.
According to Reuters, unlicensed, uninsured drivers are involved in nearly 80,000 accidents in Illinois each year and undocumented immigrant drivers cost more than $60 million in damage claims.
"The reality is that people need to drive in order to feed their families," Lake County, Illinois Sheriff Mark C. Curran (R) said in a statement distributed by the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant-rights group. "Having drivers who are uninsured, untrained and untested comes at a high cost to all of us. This bill will ensure that all Illinois drivers have licenses, which will make our roads safer for all drivers. It is the right move."
But opponents of the bill said that the licenses would be susceptible to fraud.
"There are going to be far too many people who will get these cards," Republican Rep. Randy Ramey said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "There'll be fraud, abuse."
Supporters attempted to assuage those concerns. The licenses will be specially labeled and will not be allowed to be used for other purposes other than driving, such as voting or purchasing handguns. Law enforcement agencies will not be allowed to use license data to target immigrants for deportation, the Associated Press reported.
State Democrats backed the bill while Republicans were split. Ramey and others opposed the legislation, but House Republican leader Tom Cross supported it, according to the Tribune.
Only two other states, New Mexico and Washington, grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Utah allows undocumented immigrants to receive driving permits.
California, Nevada and Florida have said they will some undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses, but only young people given federal work permits under President Obama's deferred action program.