CHICAGO — The City Council and Mayor Emanuel on Thursday both threw their support behind expanding a state temporary driver's license program to include undocumented immigrants.
The council passed a resolution backed by 28 aldermen urging the General Assembly to expand the state's Temporary Visitor Driver's License program to accept undocumented immigrants in its lame-duck veto session starting Nov. 29.
"It's a no-brainer and it's the right thing to do," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th).
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said it was necessary for the state legislature to "take action and take action soon — immediately."
Currently, Illinois residents need a Social Security Number to get a state driver's license, but registered aliens, such as foreign college students, can obtain a TVDL, which looks substantially different from a state license and is not considered a form of legal identification. The council, Emanuel and a broad coalition of political, community and business groups — including the insurance industry — support expansion of the program.
According to the Highway Safety Coalition, the estimated 250,000 unlicensed Illinois immigrant drivers cause $64 million in damage claims each year, and, in 2011, they were involved in 42 percent of all fatal car crashes.
The TVDL program requires applicants to pass a driving test and have insurance.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) called expansion of the TVDL program "a sensible solution to our broken immigration system."
The HSC estimates expansion of the program could also bring in more than $5 million a year via the $30 TVDLs, while enabling undocumented immigrants to more freely pursue jobs and buy products, benefiting the state economy.
"We are a city of immigrants," Emanuel said later in the day, after the council passed his 2013 budget. "I am both the son and the grandson of immigrants."
"The arc of history always bends toward justice," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th). "That's what we're talking about today — simple, just treatment of all people."
Lawrence Benito, chief executive officer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said there are incentives for even illegal aliens in danger of deportation to obtain TVDLs.
"Right now, if they get pulled over by the police, and they can't produce a driver's license, by state law the police officer has to confiscate the car and bring that individual to jail," Benito said. There, they usually face deportation.
Benito said the state information would not be shared with federal immigration authorities and pointed to how, since adopting a similar program in 2003, New Mexico has seen the rate of uninsured motorists drop from 33 percent to 9 percent.
Asked if he would wait patiently for passage or pursue the expansion aggressively, Emanuel said, "Do I look like a patient person to you?"
State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is a sponsor of the legislation in Springfield.