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Churchgoers laud Sen. Cullerton for immigrants’ license bill

State Senate President John Cullerthis family’s ancestral church St. Pious Pilsen was honored for his help passing SB 957 through

State Senate President John Cullerton, at his family’s ancestral church, St. Pious in Pilsen, was honored for his help in passing SB 957 through the Senate. Sunday, December 9, 2012. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:17AM

It was kind of a homecoming for Illinois’ Senate president when he visited a Pilsen church Sunday to accept a thank you from its Latino congregation for pushing legislation to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

Sen. John Cullerton’s family has been involved in Illinois politics since Edward F. Cullerton was a powerful alderman from 1871 to 1920.

On Sunday morning, the senator stopped at St. Pius V Church at 1919 S. Ashland, which is less than a block from Edward F. Cullerton’s former home.

Standing outside the church after Mass in the cold drizzle — at the corner of Cullerton and Ashland — the congregation presented the senator with flowers and chanted “Si, se puede!” or “yes we can.”

The Rev. Brendan Curran, pastor of the church, noted the Cullertons are part of a long line of immigrant families who have passed through the neighborhood and the church, including the Irish, Poles and now, Mexicans.

“That family represents all the ethnic groups that have come before us,” Curran said.

The senator has received bi-partisan support for a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get temporary licenses similar to those issued to foreign visitors who are here legally. By some estimates, 250,000 motorists in Illinois are here illegally.

Cullerton said he’s confident the Illinois House will pass the measure next month after a 41-14 vote in the Senate on Dec. 4.

“The state representatives see their senator voted for the bill,” Cullerton said. “It puts pressure on them and makes it easier for them to vote for the bill.”

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is taking a “neutral” position on the bill, according to a spokesman, but Cullerton praised him for helping draft the legislation.

“He said that it’s workable and he can implement it,” Cullerton said, adding, “There were only about 5,000 of these licenses issued last year. Now there could be a quarter of a million people applying for them.”

Some Republican legislators have said they’re strongly opposed to providing licenses to people breaking the law because they’re here without legal documents.

But the bill is supported by the Republican leaders — including Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego.

Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the main reason he sponsored the legislation was to improve road safety, but “maybe since the [presidential] election, the Republicans are willing to be more friendly to immigrants.”

Lawrence Benito, chief executive officer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said: “What we found in states like New Mexico, Washington and Utah is that if you give immigrants a chance to get a license, they will avail themselves of the opportunity.”

“They will go through the testing and get the insurance,” Benito said. “We hope this will make our streets safer.”

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