Pending bill authorizes licenses for illegal immigrants

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate, Karen Munoz, represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in Chicago Lawyer magazine and her column appears regularly in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the number of Latinos in Illinois was about 2 million, or nearly 16 percent of the population. Lawmakers estimated about 250,000 illegal immigrants live in Illinois. The Illinois Senate recently passed Senate Bill 957 that allows illegal immigrants to obtain an Illinois driver’s license. The Senate voted 41-14 in favor of the bill, which allows the secretary of state to issue a temporary visitor driver’s license to those who have resided in Illinois for more than a year; are ineligible to obtain a social security number; and who are unable to present documentation from the federal government authorizing their presence in the United States. Holders of the temporary visitor driver’s license must comply with other Vehicle Code regulations, including insurance requirements. The bill makes a temporary visitor’s driver’s license invalid if the driver cannot provide proof of liability insurance upon request from a law enforcement agency.

The bill was drafted in response to the dangers posed by those taking to the roads without a driver’s license and without insurance. Unlicensed drivers are involved in almost 80,000 accidents in Illinois annually, resulting in $660 million in damage. Unlicensed immigrant drivers cost $64 million in damages claims. In the event of an accident, it was often the public that was left with picking up the tab. According to the Highway Safety Coalition, there are about 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois who are driving without licenses and insurance. There have been calls for an amendment to the bill that would require undocumented immigrants to take a formal driving class. It has been argued that many immigrants who come to Illinois will not have driven in the blizzard-like conditions that Illinois can often experience and so would require education for handling such conditions. Temporary visitor driver’s licenses are a different color from regular Illinois driver’s licenses and are clearly marked “not valid for identification.” Undocumented drivers will have to present a verifiable passport or consular identification card, and proof of one year of Illinois residency in order to obtain the license. Drivers will also have to pay a fee and pass vision, written and road tests, as well as buy auto insurance.

If approved by the House and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois would join only two other states – Washington and New Mexico – in granting such licenses. The House is expected to take up the measure during the January lame duck session.

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