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Aldermen push for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Updated: December 19, 2012 12:34PM

Hispanic and white aldermen representing majority Latino wards along with their City Council allies on Thursday flexed the political muscle that helped seal President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Twenty-eight aldermen co-signed a resolution urging the Illinois General Assembly to extend driving privileges to 250,000 undocumented immigrants.

The state legislation they’re pushing would offer what Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called “economic empowerment” to undocumented immigrants by requiring all Illinois drivers to be trained, tested, licensed and insured.

That includes undocumented immigrants. They would no longer have to fear being pulled over for driving without a license and getting dragged into the deportation dragnet that has deprived more than 56,000 Illinois children one or both parents.

“This is really, what we call a ‘triple bottom line issue.’ It’s a justice issue. It’s a safety issue. And it’s an economic issue,” Moreno said.

“We’ve got thousands of our fellow citizens driving on the streets, going to work, taking their kids to school that don’t have the proper licensing.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, made no bones about it. The demand for driving privileges is a first step toward, what he hopes will be comprehensive immigration reform to recognize Hispanics for the political muscle they showed on Nov. 6.

“When 71 percent of over ten million voters vote with the Democratic party in this last presidential election, it sends a strong message about, what was perceived by many Hispanics to be anti-immigrant sentiment,” Solis said.

“The way that President Obama won is a very strong message to everybody that immigrants in general and Latinos in particular…should be considered. We understand that President Cullerton is on board, that Speaker Madigan is pretty close to being on board and that, this time around, it will pass--factoring in the election results of last week.”

Thursday’s City Hall news conference included nearly a dozen aldermen, including political heavyweights Edward M. Burke (14th) and Richard Mell (33rd), who represent Hispanic wards.

They noted that unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents every year across the state, triggering $660 million in damage claims.

They further noted that unlicensed motorists nationwide are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than unlicensed drivers.

The states of Washington and New Mexico already extend driver’s license privileges to undocumented immigrants—and it’s already paying dividends in New Mexico.

In the nine years since the law was passed, the rate of uninsured motorists in New Mexico plunged—from 33 percent to less than nine percent, the aldermen said. New Mexico has also seen a 24 percent drop in drunk driving accidents and a 25 percent reduction in traffic fatalities, the aldermen said.

“It’ll make our streets and our highways safer,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th), whose ward includes a virtual United Nations full of immigrants.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s all for the idea of taking action at the state level, instead of waiting for Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform.

“Do I look like a patient person to you? First of all, I’m not gonna wait for Washington. Second of all, this is something I believe in. We are a city of immigrants. I am both the son and the grandson of immigrants,” the mayor said.

“Fifty percent of all new businesses in the city are started by immigrants. You can’t be pro-small business and anti-immigrant.”

The mayor noted he lobbied the Illinois General Assembly to approve a statewide version of the DREAM Act and raised money to help send up to 200 children of illegal immigrants to college.

“This step is ensuring that undocumented individuals be able to get, what is considered a temporary driver’s license. One, it makes them get training. Two, it makes them get insurance,” he said.

“For all the rest of the drivers on the street, those are both good things to happen. And for the individual, it’s a good thing because, part of why they drive is because they want to get to work.”

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