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Immigrant driver’s  license bill heads to governor

llinois Rep. Edward J. Acevedo D-Chicago celebrates as House passes legislatiallowing illegal immigrants obtadriver’s licenses while House floor during sessiIllinois

llinois Rep. Edward J. Acevedo, D-Chicago, celebrates as the House passes legislation allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: February 10, 2013 6:03PM

SPRINGFIELD — After a highly charged debate, the Illinois House sent Gov. Pat Quinn legislation Tuesday that would grant undocumented immigrants three-year state driver’s licenses.

When the House passed the legislation 65-46, the chamber lit up in shouting and applause, and moved to grant as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants new legal recognition by the state.

“Under the eyes of God, we’re all human beings,” said Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief House sponsor.

“We come to this country — people come to this country — to fulfill the American dream. We can offer them that today.”

Afterward, the governor signaled his intent to sign the legislation, saying the measure would wind up saving lives on Illinois roads.

“More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. “Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely.”

Under the plan, which has already passed the Illinois Senate, undocumented immigrants who have lived in the state for one year would be eligible to receive a temporary visitors driver’s license that would last for three years.

In exchange, those motorists would have to undergo rules-of-the-road training, take a vision test and show proof of auto insurance. The licenses couldn’t be used to purchase firearms, to board aircraft or register to vote, nor could applicants be licensed to drive semitrailer trucks or school buses.

Ramey objects

House debate on the measure lasted nearly 90 minutes Tuesday, with critics arguing the new immigrant driver’s licenses put the state on record as condoning illegal entry into the country. They also argued the licenses set up a system that can be exploited by fraud and ignore the fact immigration policy is a federal responsibility, not a state one.

“There will be fraud, abuse,” said Rep. Randy Ramey, R-Carol Stream, who voted against the plan.

“All I have to say is people have called me a hater, a racist. All I’m doing is standing by what the Constitution of the United States of America says. If the federal government wants to change the rules, I’d stand by that,” Ramey said.

Further, some GOP critics insisted there should be requirements that immigrant license applicants be fingerprinted and show federal tax identification numbers to verify their identities. But their position was at odds with their leader, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, who voted for the plan.

“At the end of the day, forgetting just nuances of this particular bill, I’d like to think we’d continue to be a country and a state ... that remains open to the idea of people coming to our country, who want to do better, who want to have better lives, who want to work, who want to be part of our communities,” Cross said.

“We should work with them, not fight with them, as we move ahead as a state and a country.”

Nine other House Republicans joined Cross as “yes” votes in Tuesday’s roll call.

Fox Valley support

Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, who voted for the bill, said he thinks it is “going to be one of those things where, once enacted, people are going to look around and ask, ‘What was the big deal?’ ”

Supporters such as Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, said the legislation is a highway safety measure because it will ensure that tens of thousands of immigrant drivers now on the state’s roads illegally will undergo training and buy insurance, which they don’t have now.

“I think that’s a safety issue,” Farnham said. “If people are out driving, I want them to have insurance. If this forces people into the system that way, I think that’s a good thing.”

Noland said the bill also will save taxpayers money that now is paid to police to issue tickets, prosecutors to adjudicate them and judges to preside over cases when it is not a case of “criminal intent” but “a question of status.” It also will save consumers money on insurance rates that have been bumped by accidents caused by uninsured motorists, the state senator said.

“Once we get beyond all of those things and understand what it’s costing us as a state, people have come to understand this is the softer and wiser path, and one that is not apologetic to illegal immigration but one that makes this very necessary accommodation to reality,” Noland said.

Staff writer Emily McFarlan Miller contributed
to this report.

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