Bill will let undocumented Illinoisans drive

let dreamers drive

On Jan. 8, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared he would sign into law a bill that would grant three-year state driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. The legislation would be an important victory for immigrant rights. The bill's chief House sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, remarked, "We're all human beings. People come to this country to fulfill the American dream. We can offer them that today."

The House passed the measure, after heated debate, by a vote of 65-46, prompting applause and cheers of triumph. Under the plan, which has already passed the Senate, immigrants who lived in Illinois for at least a year can receive a temporary visitors' driver's license that would last for three years. Thus, thousands of undocumented Illinoisans will now enjoy new legal recognition from the state - a major step forward.

Quinn's primary reason for ok'ing the legislation is a feeling that the measure will rid Illinois roads of a "dangerous risk." He noted, "More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers. Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure that every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely."

Many House Republicans launched their usual barrage of criticisms, suggesting that the measure condones illegal entry into the country and is vulnerable to fraud. However, Republican House Minority Leader Tom Cross voted for the plan, putting him at odds with his GOP peers. Nine other House Republicans joined him in voting "yes."

The bill had been heavily advocated by Chicago's Immigrant Youth Justice League, which remarked in an official statement, "We are committed to fighting for driver's licenses for all undocumented immigrants, because they are our [family], our friends and neighbors, and members of our community." They added that the legislation offers "one less opportunity for a police officer to use the lack of a driver's license as an excuse to place a member of our community in deportation."

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the House's action on this, and called it an exemplar of the Windy City's "values as a mixing pot of cultural diversity." In a prepared statement, he elaborated, "I applaud legislators from both sides of the aisle for doing what is right by acting on this critical legislation to make our city and state more welcoming to immigrants while also making our roads safer by requiring all drivers to be trained, tested, and insured. This legislation is true to our values as a city."

Jose Vera, a community organizer with Bolingbrook, Illinois' nonprofit group Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, said, "This is a historic vote and is going to help the community very much. People that are driving to work, driving to church, are not going to be afraid anymore that anytime they drive they are going to be deported."

Undocumented citizens in other states, however, don't have reason to celebrate just yet. North Carolina initially indicated it would grant driver's licenses to immigrants, but has since reversed that position, joining Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska in doing so. The news has come as a blow to undocumented people statewide, who, at first, had been optimistic.

In October, 22-year-old Raleigh resident Cinthia Marroquin applied for deferred action (which blocks deportation and secures a two-year work permit for those who immigrated to the U.S. as children). Her next order of business was going to be a stop at the DMV, until she heard the devastating news. "It's horrible! I can't really get a job [now], basically. Am I going to make it? What am I going to do?" She is just one of 18,000 North Carolina immigrants who are feeling this anxiety.

Lacey Williams, youth program director at the Latin American Coalition, said that denying licenses is unfair and discriminatory, and that it absurdly contradicts the benefits offered under the deferred action program. "I don't know who they think it will benefit to have this class of people who can now work but cannot drive," she said. "It just doesn't make any sense."

Unfortunately for activists fighting for immigrant rights, the good news in Illinois is accompanied by yet another negative development: On January 10, the mother and brother of activist and DREAM Act supporter Erika Andiola were arrested and removed from their home by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Despite the Obama administration's assurances that ICE's intent is to only remove people convicted of serious crimes, one cannot avoid the glaring fact that Erika's mother had no criminal record.

As seemingly each progressive step forward is coupled with another step back, the fight for fair rights for undocumented citizens has become more urgent and more important than ever.

After giving his "yes" vote to the Illinois legislation, Cross concluded, "At the end of the day, I'd like to think we'd continue to be a country and a state that remains open to the idea of people coming to our country, who want to do better, who want to have better lives, who want to work, who want to be part of our communities. We should work with them, not fight them, as we move ahead as a state and a country."

Photo: Leen Nour El-Zayat, a pre-med student, speaks during a press conference held at the ACLU of Michigan headquarters in Detroit, outlining the importance of allowing undocumented citizens to obtain driver's licenses. Robin Buckson/AP

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  • I think this is actually a good movement, like what they said, to curb dangerous driving on the roads. Since this act has been finalised, foreign drivers will now have a sense of security that they are able to drive a car in Illinois legally. Thus, they will be more encouraged to obtain the 3-years license and learn the traffic rules and regulations of Illinois instead of driving recklessly.

    Posted by Thomas Williams, 05/07/2013 5:19am (2 years ago)

  • An interesting new worldwide book/ebook that helps explain the role, struggles, and contributions of immigrants and minorities is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many issues.

    As the book points out, immigrants and minorities are a major force in America, as the GOP recently discovered. Immigrants and the children they bear account for 60 percent of our nation’s population growth and own 11 percent of US businesses and are 60 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They represent 17 percent of all new business owners (in some states more than 30 percent). Foreign-born business owners generate nearly one-quarter of all business income in California and nearly one-fifth in the states of New York, Florida, and New Jersey.

    California and other states are now increasingly devising their own solutions to immigration reform, which has stalled in Washington. A poll shows Californians are overwhelmingly in favor of President Obama's new program granting work permits and a two-year reprieve from deportation to some young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Respondents also favor granting driver's licenses to the same group. It found that most Californians want increased border enforcement and think that local police and sheriffs should have a role in apprehending suspected illegal immigrants. However, Californians seem to be sending a message to the federal government that we should be able to find a solution to this problem, somewhere in between amnesty and deportation.

    Legal immigrants number 850,000 each year; undocumented (illegal) immigrants are estimated to be half that number. They come to improve their lives and create a foundation of success for their children to build upon, as did the author’s grandparents when they landed at Ellis Island in 1899 after losing 2 children to disease on a cramped cattle car-like sailing from Europe. Many bring skills and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality, something our founders did four hundred years ago. In describing America, chapter after chapter identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and contributed to our society. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance, be they in Chicago or Anytown, USA. Perhaps intelligent immigration reform, concerned Americans and books like this can extend a helping hand.

    Posted by lgjhere, 01/13/2013 1:23pm (2 years ago)

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