Undocumented immigrants will soon be able to get driver’s licenses in Illinois after lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday aimed at ensuring an estimated 250,000 unlicensed drivers get tested and insured.
Federal law prevents states from issuing regular driver’s licenses — which are accepted as identification for voting, boarding airplanes and buying guns — to people without lawful immigration status.
Illinois will instead begin issuing a “temporary visitor driver’s license,” which clearly states it is not a valid proof of identification.
Several other states such as New Mexico, Utah and Washington already offer similar licenses.
“Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely,” Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement.
He said the move would save lives as well as saving Illinois motorists $46 million a year in insurance premiums on account of uninsured drivers.
Undocumented immigrants regularly faced steep fines — and possible deportation — when caught driving without a license. Even if they paid for insurance, claims would often be denied because of their immigration status.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights hailed the bill’s passage as a significant step toward much-needed immigration reform.
There are an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.