Trouble for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in Illinois

There's big trouble for a new bill to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in Illinois. Will it pass? Photo: AP

CHICAGO, December 13, 2012 ― A new bill to permit 250,000 illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses could be in big trouble in Illinois. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), the group that is behind the bill, is fending off blows from Illinois law enforcement over the bill’s lack of security safeguards.

Opponents say the bill was stripped of key safety and security provisions once it gained political support and outrage has set in. In Springfield, state police chiefs are opposing the bill, SB957, demanding that safeguards be put back in.

Greg Sullivan, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, also says that representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) initially approached the association and asked for its support. 

“In the original drafts we were shown, the bill required applicants to submit fingerprints and tax identification numbers,” says Sullivan. “But these provisions were dropped from the current bill.”

Sullivan says that fingerprints and tax identification numbers are important from a law enforcement perspective.

“It comes down to: how do we prove identity? We don’t want to have a system that issues state driver’s licenses to felons and criminals. Fingerprints help us prevent that,” says Sullivan. “From a public perspective, the undocumented should be paying for the privilege of driving, using our roads, maintaining our signs, and supporting the traffic court system with their taxes too.”

Sullivan says that because of the bill’s lack of safeguards, there are only a few Illinois sheriffs who have come out in support of SB 957.

The association represents 102 Illinois sheriffs from across the state.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, who ran as a Democrat in 2006 and a Republican in 2010, has testified in favor of the bill. Just a few years ago, he was a staunch opponent of illegal immigration but has had a ‘conversion’ on the issue.

“I’m worried about the people that have been here for long periods of time. These people that our country lured into America in many instances, telling them that they could find jobs, jobs that we couldn’t fill — migrant worker jobs; low-wage jobs in restaurants; jobs in landscape,” said Curran in a PBS Frontline documentary released in 2011.

This week, Curran announced he is seriously considering a bid for Illinois attorney general and has formed an exploratory committee.

Reports of an investigation into Chinatown’s lucrative driver’s license black market haven’t helped the bill’s prospects either.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that it is investigating a Chinatown driver’s license black market and as many as 8,000 fraudulent licenses. An employee of Jesse White’s Secretary of State’s office was convicted last year of participating in the scheme. Four other Secretary of State employees have also been charged with taking bribes in return for passing grades. The federal probe is ongoing.

To deflect criticism of the bill, the Highway Safety Coalition (HSC), which is run by ICIRR, says the bill will prevent fraud, dry up black market, and promote highway safety.

“Today’s Chicago Sun Times carries a story that highlights the document fraud and dangers to Illinois drivers that result from the current lack of an avenue of a legal system through which undocumented immigrants can obtain legal driving documents,” said the HSC in a statement on its website.

But Illinoissordid history of trading licenses for bribes is well-known.  Former Gov. George Ryan is currently serving prison time for his role in the scandal.

Opponents also criticize deficiencies in SB957’s insurance provision.

SB957 doesn’t actually require proof of insurance upfront in order to obtain the state-issued license. Under the program, if a driver is caught without insurance during a routine traffic staff, the driver is guilty of a “petty offense.

Former Republican Governor Jim Edgar has defended the bill, saying that the GOP party platform on illegal immigration doesn’t matter. “This is common sense,” says Edgar.

New Mexico’s experience with a similar law also reveals that there is no guarantee drivers will obtain insurance.

The fast-tracked bill, which has bipartisan support of top Illinois political leaders, sailed through the state Senate with a 41-14 vote last Tuesday and is now being considered by the Illinois house.

Top Democrat leaders who support the bill include Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Senate president John Cullerton, the bill’s sponsor. State Republican leaders who support the legislation include Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), House GOP Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), and Illinois comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.


William J. Kelly is an Emmy award-winning TV producer and conservative columnist. He is also a contributor to the American Spectator and He is a native from Chicago’s Southside.

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William Kelly


Conservative commentator, satirist, and radio talk show host William J. Kelly pens the “Kelly Truth Squad” and “The Tea Party Report” for the Washington Times Communities and is a contributor to the American Spectator and Kelly is also a producer of Emmy award-winning TV and received an Emmy nomination himself for outstanding achievement on-camera. He was previously the Executive Director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, a taxpayer watchdog group. He is a native of Chicago’s South side. For more information, visit

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