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Let undocumented immigrants get licenses

Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:25AM



Ramiro has driven without a license for nearly 20 years in the Chicago area. So have his wife and adult children. They drive every day fearing they could be involved in an accident or stopped by police for a routine traffic violation that could result in one of them being deported.

“We think about it every day,” Ramiro told me. “We fear one of us might not come back home at night.”

Ramiro is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who talked to me under the condition that I not reveal his identity.

“We try to keep the speed limit and not to get distracted while driving,” he said. “But there is always the possibility of making a mistake or getting hit by another motorist.”

In Illinois, about 250,000 undocumented immigrants drive without a license and car insurance. Like Ramiro, they drive to work, to the store, to the hospital and even to the movies, trying to live normal lives.

For his family, Ramiro said, “driving” is often a “necessity.”

It is a risk, too, not only for people like Ramiro, but for all residents of Illinois. Unlicensed and uninsured immigrant drivers cost other Illinois residents $64 million in damage claims. Last year 42 percent of all fatal crashes in Illinois involved unlicensed drivers. Nationwide, unlicensed motorists are five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than licensed drivers, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights.

Pro-immigrant groups have joined law enforcement, business, faith and community organizations to support legislation that would provide undocumented immigrants a temporary visitor’s license in Illinois.

The bill is co-sponsored by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Assistant Majority Leader Edward Acevedo and has bipartisan support from heavy hitters such as Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The bill passed out of a Senate committee Thursday and likely will be voted on by the full Senate next week.

The idea is to provide undocumented people with a driver’s license similar to the one available to international students or spouses of temporary legal workers who don’t have a Social Security number. The license, on its face, would not reveal that its holder is an undocumented immigrant.

Granting driver’s licenses to people who are not legal residents may sound counterintuitive, but it would make Illinois roads safer by requiring undocumented immigrants to pass the same battery of tests you and I need to pass to drive legally in Illinois.

It also would allow undocumented immigrants to get car insurance. I don’t have to tell you about the potential financial burden and the headaches of getting into an accident with someone who has no auto insurance.

Law enforcement is behind the idea, too, because the police want to know who is behind the wheel. And undocumented immigrants do not pose a terrorist threat.

As Ramiro said, “No undocumented immigrant has ever been charged with trying to obtain a driver’s license with the intent to commit terrorist acts.”

Undocumented immigrants like Ramiro are not going away, and they will continue to drive. Allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses will go a ways toward containing insurance costs and making our roads safer.



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