As many as 250,000 illegal immigrants would be able to get
in Illinois under legislation that advanced in the Senate today.
, D-Chicago, maintained the bill is needed to make Illinois roads safer because drivers licensed under the program would be insured and tested for vision and driving ability.
The move comes as the nation's political leaders jockey over how best to address numerous broad issues involving undocumented immigrants, but Cullerton said the state should not wait on the license issue because Illinois would be "better off."
"We care about the highways in our state," Cullerton said.
Under the program, undocumented immigrants would be eligible for the special, three-year licenses to drive a vehicle. It would be a different in color from a regular driving license. It also cannot be used for identification purposes, such as for boarding a plane, buying a gun or voting.
The legislation won approval in the Senate Executive Committee 12-2, sending it to the full Senate for a likely vote next week.
Senate Minority Leader
, R-Lemont, acknowledged the issue engenders a "lot of emotion" but that the state must step up because of the federal government's inaction.
"We should pull the trigger," Radogno said, noting the law needs to be monitored closely.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran testified in favor of the bill, saying immigrants are driving to schools, stores and church even when they are undocumented and don't have licenses.
"Ultimately," Curran said, "law enforcement would much rather go after the bad guys and not just people that are trying to get to work and school."
"At a time of diminishing police forces, I believe that it's imperative that we use our resources wisely," Curran said. "Licensing and insuring all immigrant drivers will ease the burden on jails and courts, which are currently drained by holding people solely for driving without a license or insurance."