License change for noncitizens will eliminate stigma, make everyone safer

At left is the Temporary Visitor Driver’s License and at right is the standard license. Courtesy of Illinois Secretary of State’s Office

This month, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill that will allow all noncitizens – including those who are here without permission – to obtain a standard Illinois driver’s license.

The state created driver’s licenses for temporary visitors in 2013, but there was an important distinction: Visitor driver’s licenses couldn’t be used for identification, a restriction that was marked clearly at the top.

Think about all situations that require an ID (beyond picking up a six-pack of beer at the grocery store).

When you fill a prescription.

When you establish a bank account.

When you sign a lease.

When you set up utilities at your home.

Those tasks and others would become so onerous without your driver’s license.

The new law doesn’t change any of the requirements for obtaining a driver’s license.

Noncitizens still must pass a road test, and they must carry liability insurance. Prospective drivers also must have lived in the state for more than a year and must provide either U.S. immigration documents or a passport or consular card that’s within two years of expiration.

Noncitizens still won’t be automatically registered to vote – a license application won’t enter the registration process if it isn’t accompanied by a Social Security number – and their standard licenses won’t qualify as a REAL ID at an airport.

According to the Illinois secretary of state’s office, more 300,000 people have a temporary visitor driver’s license, but the label actually dissuaded noncitizens from getting one.

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias likened the purple strip to a scarlet letter.

“They know and the officer knows that this form of ID essentially serves as an admission of being undocumented or having a temporary visa,” Giannoulias said during a June 21 news conference.

The new law blocks the state from providing driver’s license data to immigration authorities unless agents secure a warrant or a court order for the information.

Opponents of the legislation, which will take effect on July 1, 2024, argue it effectively condones illegal immigration and lets noncitizens “hide” their status.

But a law that encourages would-be drivers to go through the licensing process and prove they belong on the roads makes everybody safer.

Licenses that can be used for identification also will help keep noncitizens from having to live on the margins of society.

That’s something state Rep. Barbara Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat, had in mind when she sponsored the bill.

“My parents were undocumented for 21 years,” she said in March, when the state House approved the measure. “My parents would have wished years ago that they could have a driver license. Today we’re updating those driver licenses to turn them more standardized, to stop discrimination.”

The Daily Herald

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