Illinois approves driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 10:00am

Illinois lawmakers approved a new measure Tuesday that would allow undocumented immigrants to get temporary driver's licenses.

Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged to sign the bill, saying in a statement that it will make the state's roads safer.

"More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers," said Quinn, a Democrat. "Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely."

The bill, which the state's House of Representatives approved 65-46 on Tuesday, says immigrants can apply for the temporary licenses -- good for three years -- if they have lived in the state for more than a year. The driver's licenses cannot be used as identification to buy weapons or board airplanes, officials have said.

The state's Senate approved the bill in a 41-14 vote last month.

Immigrant rights advocates praised the move.

"The Illinois Legislature has shown the way forward on immigration," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement.

But opponents of the measure raised concerns about fraud and said the proposed law didn't go far enough to resolves the state's immigration problems.

"It's an issue that everybody walks away from," said Jim Sacia, a Republican representative.

Quinn said he was looking forward to signing the bill, arguing that motorists will save millions in insurance premiums and the measure will "empower more immigrants to become stronger contributors to our economy."

New Mexico and Washington also allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Utah issues driving privilege cards to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the state for more than six months.

For months, driver's licenses and other state benefits have been at the heart of a battle in the nationwide immigration debate.

In August, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered officials in her state not to provide driver's licenses or any other benefits to immigrants granted "deferred status" under the new federal deferred action program that allows accepted applicants to remain in the United States and work without fear of deportation for at least two years.

Under the federal policy that federal officials announced last year, people younger than 30 who arrived in the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military, can get a two-year deferral from deportation and apply for work permits

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CNN's Kara Devlin and Carma Hassan contributed this report.
 

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