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Pictured immediately after the historic IL House vote (Left to Right) Chicago Irish Immigrant Support (CIIS) Executive Director Breandán Magee, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, CIIS Board President Cyril Regan Photo by: Breandán Magee

Irish played key role in new Illinois undocumented drivers licenses law

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Pictured immediately after the historic IL House vote (Left to Right) Chicago Irish Immigrant Support (CIIS) Executive Director Breandán Magee, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, CIIS Board President Cyril Regan Photo by: Breandán Magee

This formidable coalition was strengthened by the support of the teachers unions, hospital associations, the labor unions, chambers of commerce, the state police association and the 130 member agencies of ICIRR.

The bill allows any immigrant in Illinois to secure a temporary visitor's’ driver’s license if he or she can provide proof of residency in Illinois for the last year, a valid passport or consular ID and pass all road tests.  The license will cost $30 but will appear somewhat different to the regular IL driver’s license; they will be colored purple as opposed to the red of regular licenses.  The TVDL already exists for foreign nationals who are here on student visas or temporary work visas.  It will not be valid for proof of identity to board a plane or enter a federal building and will be marked “not valid for identification”.  It can however be used as a bond card in the event that the holder is pulled over by a police officer and given that it is the same TVDL available to foreign students and visa holders law enforcement cannot assume that the holder is undocumented.

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 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.

Supporters of this bill took a moment to savor its passage but in true form those committed to immigration reform met just two days after the vote to chart the course ahead for a federal bill to legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in our country.   CIIS Board Chairman and Executive Director Breandan Magee were again among those present to declare 2013 as the year that Congress acts. 

Magee said, “Be prepared in this session of Congress to see the same momentum build as in 2007 with large marches here in Chicago and in Washington DC .. the President has stated that immigration reform will  be his top priority after the fiscal cliff and we are ready to mobilize and support him in that endeavor.”

The stage has now been set with Illinois’ historic passage of SB 957 and with Republicans in the US Congress mouthing words of compromise on immigration reform, after an unprecedented Latino voter turn-out in favor of Democrats and their pro immigrant platform, signs are good.  The Irish have been center stage in this debate as it has raged throughout the years and they will continue to punch above their weight to do, as Organizer Rebecca Shi of ICIRR said,“ whatever it takes”. 

That fighting Irish spirit and Celtic tenacity has brought generations of Irish immigrants to these shores in search of a better life and today’s generation deserve no less a chance at the American dream.  Today Irish proponents of immigration reform stand shoulder to shoulder with all immigrants in the melting pot spirit that defines what it means to be American.  Times and politics may change but that exceptional-ism of America and her ideals never does and SB 957 goes a long way to proving it.

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