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Ald. Ed Burke speaks at press conference

Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spoke at Thursday's press conference, saying he is proud that the City Council is urging the state General Assembly and the United States Congress to deal with legislation that would benefit everyone.

Alderman press for driving privileges for undocumented immigrants

by Andrew Hedlund
Nov 15, 2012

Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL     

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said passing a measure allowing access to licenses for undocumented immigrants would make Chicago's streets safer.

Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL     

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said this policy could help the economy since many of them work and all must buy life essentials, like groceries.     

Andrew Hedlund/MEDILL

Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) said drivers licenses would make it easier for first responders to identify victims at the scene of a crash.     

Calling the issue a question of public safety as well as fairness, several of Chicago’s aldermen gathered Thursday morning to advocate for legal changes that would let Illinois issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“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,” said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st). The resolution encouraging the Illinois General Assembly to enact such a measure went before the entire City Council later Thursday, but no immediate action ensued.

The aldermen presented the proposed drivers’ license policy as a moral issue that would also yield benefits to public safety, economic development and health care.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chief sponsor of the resolution, noted that across Illinois 56,108 children with undocumented parents have seen one or both deported, and said this measure could help minimize such family breakups.

“One common way for being caught up in the deportation dragnet is by being pulled over for driving without a license,” he said.

Another advantage of such a measure, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said at the morning press conference, is that licensed drivers can get auto insurance, which undocumented immigrants currently can’t obtain because they lack a license. That would make the roads less dangerous, he said: “People with insurance are more apt to drive safely.”

Numbers provided by the Highway Safety Coalition, an advocacy group that supports licensing for undocumented immigrants, showed a substantial number of traffic tickets and traffic-related arrests came from not having licenses. This, the group argued, would make life easier for the courts and county jails.

In Lake County, the statistics showed, 28 percent of all motorists jailed for traffic violations from October of last year to September of this year were immigrants who could not get licenses, and last year close to 48,000 tickets in Cook County alone went to drivers who did not have a license.

Several other states across the country have enacted similar policies over the years.

Two such states, both Utah and New Mexico saw their uninsured drivers rate go from 28 percent and 33 percent, respectively, to 9 percent or under, the aldermen.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) praised the contribution undocumented immigrants bring our economy, both local and national. They need licenses, he said, so they can drive their kids to school, go to work, or go grocery shopping,
The Highway Safety Coalition, again, provided numbers to bolster the economic case for this policy.

Based on the fees people must pay to obtain a license, if half of the 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois got a license, the coalition said, it would mean an extra $3.75 million in revenue for the state. If three-quarters of those immigrants complied, the number rises to $5.63 million.

Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) argued that licensing undocumented immigrants would allow emergency medical attendants to identify their patients and help hospitals with billing. It would, he said, also increase the number of organ donors.

A wide array of individuals from Gov. Pat Quinn to U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) support the measure, the coalition said, adding that a variety of organizations also back it, from the Illinois Insurance Association to Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council.