One part of Mitt Romney’s immigration plan is opposition to “magnets” that entice illegal immigration, such as issuing driver’s licenses to the undocumented. On first hearing, this sounds reasonable, but a little research in Illinois shows strong multilateral support for providing driver’s licenses to all who qualify.

Examples of support from across a wide swath of groups: the legal community (Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Cook County Judge Mark Ballard); the insurance industry (Illinois Insurance Agency and Mesirow Financial); business associations (Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Green Industries Association); health groups (Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and West Suburban Hospital – Oak Park); institutions of higher learning (Dominican University and Illinois Institute of Technology); labor (Chicago Federation of Labor and UNITE-HERE! Local 1); faith groups (Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and United Methodist Church); and community organizations (Community Renewal Society and Immigrant Youth Justice League). This is a small sample of supporters.

Why is there such broad support? Safety, first and foremost. To obtain a license, drivers get tested on their driving skill and their knowledge of the rules of the road. They will also be required to purchase insurance. Police will be able to use driver’s licenses to identify motorists during stops and check their traffic records. Health care providers will be able to use the licenses to identify the people they are caring for.

Courts and jails would spend less time and money on cases where the crime is driving without a license or without insurance. Insurance premiums cover the costs of accidents involving uninsured motorists. Licensed and insured motorists pay for those costs when they purchase insurance. Through testing potential drivers and requiring insurance, premium costs should decrease.

New Mexico already requires immigrant motorists to get driver’s licenses. Since enacting the law, the percentage of uninsured motorists fell from 33% to under 9%. According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), unlicensed and uninsured motorists in Illinois are involved in 79,600 accidents each year, costing $660 million in damage claims. Nationally, unlicensed drivers are five times likelier to be involved in fatal crashes than licensed drivers.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a bill to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and as a presidential candidate, he says he opposes doing this because it will attract the undocumented. That seems a bit fantastic, but even if it does, the priority should be health and safety.

Driver’s licenses are issued by the state. I encourage state representatives Camille Lilly, La Shawn Ford and Karen Yarbrough as well as state senators Kimberly Lightford and Don Harmon to show leadership and get a bill through our legislature that would provide driver’s licenses to all Illinois residents who can pass the eligibility tests, regardless of citizenship. Do so to ensure safer roads for us all.

Tom Broderick

Oak Park

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