My wife Rocio had just picked up her younger sister from their mom’s home in the Western suburbs. It was Monday morning, and the two sisters were making their daily commute to the small company where they worked as accounting clerks. Winding through the neighborhood she grew up in, my wife was crossing an intersection when another driver ignored a stop sign and slammed into the driver side door.
Rocio doesn’t remember the moment of impact, but her sister recalls her letting out a high-pitched scream only half a second before.
In shock, my wife used her foot to kick open her door. Once out, she walked over to the other driver, who was still sitting in her car, seemingly in shock as well. Rocio asked if she was alright. Fortunately, no one was injured in the crash.
When a police officer arrived at the scene, he asked Rocio for her driver’s license. She told him she didn’t have one, and when he asked her why, she told him she was undocumented.
A month later the judge ordered Rocio to pay a $200-plus fine for driving without a license. The case against the other driver was dismissed when the officer failed to appear in court.
Now I drive my wife and her sister to work every day, because we can’t afford any more run-ins with the law while her application for permanent residency is being processed. Luckily for us, Rocio’s nightmare will soon be over.
But for those undocumented immigrants in Illinois who are still trying to thrive with no pathway to legalization, there’s good news. A bill is currently making its way through the Illinois General Assembly that would provide a special driver’s license to as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state.
“Under the program, undocumented immigrants would be eligible for the special, three-year licenses to drive a vehicle,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “It would be a different color from a regular driving license. It also cannot be used for identification purposes, such as for boarding a plane, buying a gun or voting.”
The bill has received bipartisan support from leading public officials and passed in the Illinois Senate by a 41-14 vote on December 4. The bill will go to the Illinois House next.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat representing Chicago’s Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, argued that allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses instead of waiting for the federal government to take action would leave Illinois “better off,” because such drivers would be tested and insured, making the roads safer.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, a Republican and a prominent supporter of immigrants’ rights, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying that many unlicensed immigrants are forced to drive to work, school and the store. “Ultimately, law enforcement would much rather go after the bad guys and not just people that are trying to get to work and school,” Curran told state senators.
The sheriff has been an outspoken advocate of the move since it was reinitiated in early November by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, along with others. “They would love to not violate the law, but they need to feed their families, and they have to get to work,” Curran stated at the time.
Given the defeat of a handful of Republican assemblymen due in large part to what the Illinois Times described as a soaring Latino vote, Illinois Republicans are looking for a way to remain a viable option among Latino voters and thus keep the state from sliding deeper blue.
The bill will come up for a vote in front of the full House soon, and seeing how Republicans received a battering in the November elections and Illinois is already something of a headquarters for the immigrants’ rights campaign, I expect the bill to pass and be signed by Governor Pat Quinn during the lame-duck session ending January 9. (Remember: An even more controversial bill, the legalization of civil unions, became law during 2010’s lame-duck session.)
When the bill becomes law and undocumented immigrants are finally allowed to drive, those whom we call our friends, family members and coworkers won’t be forced to drive unlicensed and afraid, and the people of Illinois will all be safer on the road.
[Photo by redjar]