Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signs historic drivers’ licenses bill into law


The Secretary of State estimates that the new licenses move will cost $800,000 in its first year but even if only 30,000 of the estimated 250,000 undocumented drivers in Illinois apply and pay the $30 fee, the initiative will be revenue neutral and may even turn a profit.  This was a key provision for many lawmakers concerned about the dire fiscal problems faced by the state of Illinois.
Proponents of the bill see its passage as a precursor to immigration reform at the national level, which is picking up steam as we speak.  Today, Monday January 28 a group of eight Democratic and Republican senators unveiled their plans for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the shadows.  While a drop in the ocean such moves would also affect the 50,000 Irish men and women who find themselves in immigration limbo.

President Obama, buoyed by his recent electoral success and ready to expend some of his political capital, will announce his own plans for immigration reform in Las Vegas on Tuesday.  He promised such moves in his first term but was unable to deliver, however the stage is now set for real progress on the issue.  Both parties recognize the growing importance of changing demographics and the Latino vote, but none more so than the Republicans who lost the Latino vote by 70 to 30 in the recent presidential run-off.  They understand only too well that the White House may evade them again if they do not appeal more to Latinos who currently find the GOP a cold house for their interests.

As the debate moves to Washington DC the Irish and the Chicago Celts have their sights firmly set on immigration reform but with an added element: namely the E3 visa.  The hope is to add the E3 bill, modeled after a similar E3 visa for Australia, to any immigration reform bill.  The E3 visa for the Irish would be a reciprocal visa that would allow up to 10,000 Irish nationals the chance to come to the USA to work for up to two years. 

The visa would be renewable after two years and would include a three-tiered educational requirement for applicants.  The visa would be available to those with a high school diploma, a vocational qualification or a third level degree.  The Irish government has firmly stood behind the E3 and the bill has strong support on the Hill among friends of Ireland.   There has never been a better time to push forward with comprehensive immigration reform and the Irish are poised to once again punch above their weight in this debate.

*Breandán Magee is the Executive Director of the Chicago Irish Immigrant Support (CIIS)