To staunch opponents of illegal immigration, a looming law that allows qualified undocumented residents to get an Illinois driver's licenses is yet another example of privileges being granted to lawbreakers.|
If the issue were simply black and white, it would a no-brainer to oppose a measure they say validates the presence of people who are in this country illegally and further complicates efforts to secure our borders. But for many backers of SB 957 in Springfield, the benefit to the public safety was the overriding concern in endorsing a measure designed to ensure that more Illinois drivers are properly trained, licensed and insured, whatever their immigration status.
Consider, for example, that unlicensed drivers cost $64 million annually in uninsured damage claims and in 2011, supporters of the bill say, 42 percent of all fatal crashes in Illinois involved an unlicensed driver. Isn't it wise public policy to approve measures that make the roads safer and reduce costs for the rest of us?
It's also important to note, that the current policy of denying driver's licenses to those who are in America illegally hasn't reduced the number of illegal immigrants. And it clearly hasn't stopped many of them from driving. Life in highly mobile America requires that most residents, legal or otherwise, get behind the wheel to get to work, go to the market, take the kids to school or see the doctor. We'd rather they did so having demonstrated some mastery of the rules of the rules of road and knowledge of our state mandatory insurance requirement.
That's why House lawmakers were right to join Senate colleagues in backing the law Tuesday which Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign that makes this state the fourth in the nation to say that undocumented immigrants can legally drive.
We salute Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, for earlier backing this wise public policy measure and lament the fact that Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, and outgoing Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, voted no.
There were plenty of good reasons to back the bill which represents a measured response to a real problem that could serve as a template for other states seeking to save lives and reduce costs.
For starters, undocumented applicants will not qualify for regular state driver's licenses, but will, once they pass the proper tests, be awarded a Temporary Visitor Driver's Licenses.
According to the Highway Safety Coalition organized to support SB 957, such licenses have been around since 2005 for those who have lawful immigration status. Those who get them include foreign students, spouses and children of temporary workers and long-term visitors.
These licenses are not supposed to be used as legal identification for things like voting, boarding a plane, getting a gun, or even entering a federal building and, for that reason, they don't look like regular licenses; TVDLs are purple, not red and are clearly marked "not valid for identification."
And not every undocumented Illinoisan can qualify for one. They must provide such things as proof of residence, to the Secretary of State before they can be issued a non-resident driver's license.
They also must pass all the tests other licensed drivers are required to take and, in addition, provide proof of insurance for the vehicle in which they take a road test. Applicants also will pay the $30 the rest of us do. They'll also wait longer to receive their licenses while the Secretary of State verifies their application materials.
Not surprisingly, immigration activists are celebrating the bill's passage. "It's taken years of organizing by groups like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities to lay the foundation for victories like this, and it's paying off as the state leads the way in showing the country what it means to treat immigrants with dignity and respect," said Michael D. Woods, executive director of Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities.
But all those who care about public safety should celebrate this common sense solution to the very real problem presented by unsafe, undocumented and unlicensed drivers.