SPRINGFIELD — Illegal immigrants would be allowed to get temporary driver's licenses under a bill approved Tuesday by the Illinois House.
The Senate already has approved the bill, so it now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he supports it.
If signed by the governor, Illinois would be the fourth state to issue such licenses. Utah, Washington and New Mexico currently issue them.
The legislation would make immigrants who drive to work and school eligible for temporary licenses that are already issued to foreign-born visitors to the United States. The licenses -- called temporary visitor driver's licenses -- couldn't be used to buy a firearm, register to vote or board a plane, and law enforcement officials wouldn't be allowed to use them to target illegal immigrants for deportation.
The House passed the bill 65-46. A co-sponsor of the legislation was Rep. Scott Penny, D-Fairmont City.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said there are there 250,000 unlicensed illegal immigrants who drive in Illinois. Uninsured immigrant drivers cause $64 million in damage claims each year, according to the coalition's calculation that's based on federal and state figures. That's an expense covered by ratepayers' increased premiums. Better-trained and licensed drivers mean safer roads, advocates say.
Opposition to the measure in Illinois has been scarce. Early on, some Republicans said it's an immigration reform measure that should be left to the federal government.
Some representatives argued that in the other states that allow such licenses, there hasn't been an increase in the purchase of car insurance by illegal immigrants. And some representatives, concerned about fraud, had sought a requirement that holders of the licenses undergo fingerprinting.
Supporters of the bill said the fingerprinting would be expensive, and would discourage illegal immigrants from seeking the licenses.
Rep. Randy Ramey, R-Carol Stream, asked what happens when a person's temporary visitor driver's license expires after three years. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, said the person could then apply for another temporary visitor driver's license.
Ramey said that would constitute "a long visit," and added "this seems to be saying that these people aren't really leaving."
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, noted that Tennessee once allowed such licenses but no longer does because of fraud problems. He also said the U.S. Constitution makes immigration issues the responsibility of the federal government.
"Why are we engaging in the activities of something the U.S. government should be taking upon themselves?" Kay said, adding that he suspects some legislators support the measure because it's currently "politically popular."
Acevedo replied, "This has nothing to do with amnesty or any part of the U.S. Constitution."
The program will cost about $800,000 in the first year and about $250,000 per year after that.
Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton -- No
Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem -- No
Rep. Jerry Costello III, D-Smithton -- No
Rep. Paul Evans, R-O'Fallon -- No
Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis -- Yes
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon -- No
Rep. Scott Penny, D-Fairmont City -- Yes
Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville -- Yes
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton -- No
Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville -- No
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon -- No
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2511. HOW LOCAL LEGISLATORS VOTED: