Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law this week that creates a licensure program for undocumented immigrants as the state joins rare company nationwide granting such driving rights.
SB 957 was passed in the state Legislature earlier this month after a wide spectrum of big-name supporters joined to back to the bill, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Quinn himself.
As he finalized the bill, Quinn called it a “common sense law” that would strengthen roadway safety and immigrant rights at the same time.
The new law “will help everybody, regardless of their background, learn the rules of the road, pass a driving test and get insurance,” he said at the signing event. “As a result, our roads will be safer, we will create more access to job opportunities, and our economic growth will be strengthened.”
SB 957 goes into effect on Nov. 27.
Under the new law, a temporary visitor driver’s license (TVDL) will be available to undocumented immigrants who undergo driving education courses and testing. Once they have a TVDL, those licensed motorists would be subject to many routine driving laws, including requirements that they have insurance and carry proof of coverage while behind the wheel.
TVDLs need to be renewed every three years and cannot be used as valid proof of identity. And if a TVDL holder is pulled over and can’t prove that they have insurance, the TVDL becomes invalid.
The law will benefit the insurance industry by pushing up the number of insured motorists in the state and cut into the millions in damage claims from unlicensed immigrant drivers that currently damage the industry, according to Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s sponsors.
Some insurers have provided coverage to unlicensed, undocumented immigrants, but they often wouldn’t cover claims filed by them, according to the Illinois Highway Safety Coalition, one of the bill’s supporters. That left little incentive for undocumented immigrants to buy auto insurance with no driver’s license.
The law’s supporters cite the effectiveness of Utah laws that created a driving program for undocumented immigrants. According to a 2008 audit, 75 percent of undocumented immigrants who got the privilege to drive through the program had obtained coverage.
Utah’s laws grant undocumented immigrants the right to a “driving privilege” card, while Illinois joins New Mexico and Washington as the only states in the U.S. to grant undocumented immigrants the right to driver’s licensees.
Opponents of the new Illinois law say the program will be rife with problems once the state issues new licenses en masse, citing examples of program abuse in New Mexico and Gov. Susana Martinez’s complaints about the state’s licensure program.