NEAR WEST SIDE — Reciting a call for equality, a slew of top Illinois politicians joined Gov. Pat Quinn as he signed a bill Sunday that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
Before Quinn signed the bill into law Sunday afternoon at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, a rapturous audience listened to a 90-minute parade of speechifying federal, state and local politicians, offering themes of bi-partisanship and Illinois serving as the model for immigrant reform nationwide surfacing repeatedly.
“This bill is not just about driver's licenses,” State Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) told a large crowd that regularly broke out in chants of “sí se puede,” or “yes we can.” “It’s about equality for all. Times change, people change and laws change.”
Starting in November, undocumented immigrants will be able to receive the three-year driver's license.
Approximately 250,000 undocumented immigrant drivers will be eligible for the temporary license, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a group that helped push the legislation forward.
The card will not be a valid form of identification, according to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, and applicants must have insurance and pass vision, written and road exams.
Those with the Temporary Visitor Driver’s License who are caught driving without insurance will be ticketed for that infraction as well as driving without a license, according to the secretary of state's office.
Some have criticized the legislation as opening the door for “rampant fraud,” crime and abuse.
The parade of elected officials Saturday congratulated each other for working together and with activist groups who mobilized for the bill.
Everyone from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle spoke Saturday, saying the new law will increase safety, reduce insurance rates and make the job of Illinois cops easier.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recalled battles to get similar legislation passed more than a decade ago.
“It takes a lot of work by a lot of people to sometimes get common-sense laws passed,” Madigan said.
As Washington, D.C., gets set to tackle immigration reform nationwide, hopefully lawmakers there will take note of the bipartisan cooperation that got Illinois' bill passed, Emanuel said.
“So goes Illinois,” he said, “so goes the country.”
As Quinn signed the bill, Wojciech Barvzik of the Polish Initiative of Chicago said it was an historic day for all immigrants.
"People need to work and people have families," he said. "They just want to live like normal people."