Our View: Stop or limit immigrant license plan

There are two ways to look at the recent push by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

The first is to say absolutely not. Illegal immigrants, after all, are here illegally. They’re not supposed to be living in the U.S. They shouldn’t be able to buy and register automobiles. Employers aren’t supposed to hire them, so they shouldn’t have jobs that they need a car to drive to each day. And so on.

Giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses also sends the message that yes, we will accept you in our society even if you’ve broken our laws to get here and live here in violation of those laws. It not only makes legal driving accessible to a person looking to work, but also could help foreigners bent on terrorism or any other aim.

We certainly can’t pretend to be discouraging illegal immigration if we take measures to accommodate those living here illegally.

Unfortunately, there are other realities in play in Illinois. For starters, Democrats now have supermajority control in the state House and Senate, and we already know Cullerton and Quinn think licensing illegal immigrant drivers is a good idea.

Second, the city of Chicago already prides itself on accommodating illegal immigrants. It is a “Sanctuary city,” which forbids its employees – including police – from inquiring about the immigration status of people. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he wants Chicago to be the most immigrant-friendly city in the world, and when he says that, he’s including illegal immigrants.

In other words, whether we want undocumented immigrants to be accommodated or not doesn’t matter. In our state, they already are accommodated. They live and work here and they drive on our roads, and unless they commit a felony, they probably won’t be deported. As it stands, those who live here without papers live outside the law and they cannot be easily traced by law enforcement.

Considering the circumstances, if those who take a dim view of illegal immigration cannot kill the proposal, at least they should try to shape it into something they can live with.

The proposal is not unprecedented. Three U.S. states – New Mexico, Utah, and Washington – allow those without Social Security numbers to obtain driver’s licenses.

Proponents of the change say that licensing more drivers would make Illinois roads safer. They estimate that 250,000 immigrants on Illinois roads today have not passed a driving test and are uninsured.

These unlicensed, uninsured drivers are responsible for $64 million in damage claims each year, according to the Illinois Highway Safety Coalition. Proponents say Illinoisans could save $46 million each year in premium payments if half of the 250,000 unlicensed immigrants on the road were to receive licenses and buy insurance.

There are potential public safety and financial benefits to taking more drivers out of the uninsured pool, and to regulating more drivers.

If that is the problem that must be remedied, then the solution must be narrowly tailored to address it. Driver’s licenses given to people without a Social Security number should not be on par with what citizens receive.

These non-citizen licenses should be used only to prove that a driver has passed a road test and is eligible to drive and obtain insurance. They should be unmistakably labeled as such, at least as clearly as licenses issued to drivers under 21.

They should not be considered a valid form of ID for boarding an airplane, opening a bank account, registering to vote, buying a gun or any other official business.

Licensees also should be required to provide some form of ID to prove their identity, and be fingerprinted so they can be tracked.

These licenses also should cost significantly more, and be immediately suspended if the licensee is caught driving without insurance. Perhaps after a second violation, the license would be permanently revoked.

The only way licenses for undocumented immigrants should be considered acceptable is if they are used for a very narrow purpose. Illegal immigrants are not citizens; they are not entitled to the same privileges.

But it would be better if they were not issued at all.

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