Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran Jr. is backing a bill requiring all Illinois drivers be licensed and insured including undocumented immigrants.
Curran joined with the Highway Safety Coalition Tuesday in a press conference Tuesday calling on the Illinois General Assembly to “have courage and put highway safety first by passing legislation in veto session 2012 to require all Illinois drivers to be licensed and insured.”
“There are a lot of undocumented immigrants that need to get to work and by virtue of the way the system is set up, by having to have a social security number, are not eligible to get a driver’s license,” Curran said.
“By making sure they get licenses, we can ensure that they are going through a process (to learn) the Rules of the Road and learn what is expected on American roadways,” he said. “It will make the roads safer.”
The Highway Safety Coalition, made up of law enforcement, healthcare, business, education, labor, faith and community leaders, is supporting a bill sponsored by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and House Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.
A draft of the bill is expected to be completed by next week and backers will decide when to present it to the General Assembly, said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
“There are a number of organizations, associations and individuals who see a need to address the issue of the 250,000 people currently driving on our roads who are not licensed to drive,” Benito said. “I think people see the need at a policy level and at a safety level to address this issue immediately.”
According to the coalition, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents each year in Illinois, which cost $660 million in damage claims. Nationwide, unlicensed motors are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than licensed drivers, the coalition said.
Locally, Lake County’s population is 21 percent Latino and the county has a large concentration of Polish population, Curran said.
“We have a sizable undocumented population, there is no doubt about it,” he said
Sheriff’s deputies spend a lot of time handling reports dealing with unlicensed or uninsured drivers and nearly 1/3 of all inmates booked into the county jail, based on data from 2011 to 2012, are undocumented immigrants who could not get a driver’s license, Curran said.
“It takes a lot of patrol time that can be spent responding to calls or doing neighborhood patrols,” he said. “It can also cause delay in response to serious calls.”
Other states, like Washington and New Mexico, require all motorists, including undocumented immigrants, get a driver’s license, according to the coalition. Since New Mexico made this change in 2003, its rate of uninsured motorists fell from 33 percent to under 9 percent. New Mexico also saw a 24 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes and a 25 percent drop in traffic fatalities, according to the coaltion.
Supporters also argue that licensing all drivers will help first responders and healthcare providers to identify patients under their care, verify patient medical history and facilitate patient billing, the coalition stated.
A similar bill almost passed in 2007 and it had the support of many law enforcement associations, Benito said. The coalition will seek that support again this time around but the associations want to see specific language before publicly offering support, he said.
Curran, Benito and other coalition members feel this is the right time to try to get the bill passed.
The national narrative since the Nov. 4 federal and state elections has brought immigration issues to the forefront, especially for Latinos. Benito said Latinos showed their political force and both parties cannot take the fast growing population for granted.
“I think there are some people who think it makes good political sense given the outcome of the election,” Benito said.
“Conservatives like U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, (Senator) Lindsey Graham, (Senator) John McCain and (conservative radio host) Sean Hannity, immigration stalwarts of the Republican Party have evolved and are looking to get on the right side of the immigration issue,” Benito said. “We believe there is a case to be made at the state and local level as well.”