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Illinois Approves Drivers Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 957 which grants illegal immigrants the ability to obtain three-year drivers licenses. Although Texas has not yet followed suit, as an immigration lawyer in Austin, I am intrigued by the public policy and political justifications that Illinois and other states have used to provide this right to undocumented residents.

Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives approved Bill 957 in a 65 to 46 vote, which allowed the bill to be sent to the governor. Governor Quinn promptly signed the bill. He supported his decision by stating publicly that public safety would be improved by having the more than 250,000 unlicensed motorists on the roads of Illinois learn proper driving skills. He also cited that the law would save Illinois drivers almost $46 million a year in insurance premiums because illegal immigrants would now be find it easier to obtain insurance.

In Illinois almost 80,000 accidents involving uninsured drivers occur each year. This results in almost $660 million in damage. Almost $64 million in damage claims are created annually in Illinois due to unlicensed immigrant drivers.

The federal government has helped pave the way for states like Illinois, California and New Mexico to grant driver’s license privileges to undocumented aliens. Through the federal government’s Deferred Action program, states have been granted the right to decide whether to extend driver’s licenses to eligible immigrants. Connecticut has decided to grant this right to only those immigrants who have been approved by the Deferred Action program. This may lead to fewer deportations in these states because minor traffic violations may no longer lead to detainment and deportation proceedings.

In order to be eligible for an Illinois driver’s license, the applicant must have lived in the state for at least a year. This must be documented by a rental agreement, utility bill or similar paperwork. There would be no requirement for a Social Security number which was previously required.

The success of this bill is in small part attributable to the enlarged presence of Latino voters at the polls in November of 2012. Illinois Republicans lent their support to the bill, stating that the state could no longer ignore the presence of illegal immigrants on the road. There was outspoken criticism of the law as well; many Illinois congressional leaders and social groups said the new law would contribute to fraud and more lethal accidents on the road.

Although the state of Texas is unlikely to follow the examples set by Illinois and other states in the near future, the public policy concerns stated by these few states may lead to similar changes in other states and in federal laws. As an immigration attorney, I find these changes in state laws fascinating because they often preface much wider changes in American society and the legal system.

If you or someone you know has questions about this or other immigration related issues, please contact my office to set up a private consultation. You may reach my office at (512) 215-5225.

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