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Illinois Enacts Law Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Driver’s Licenses

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Illinois has taken a significant step by enacting legislation that permits undocumented immigrants to obtain standardized driver’s licenses, departing from its decade-old Temporary Visitor Driver’s License (TVDL) program. Signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker on June 30, 2023, the initiative aims to provide a valid form of identification compliant with federal regulations, particularly the REAL ID Act. This move addresses immigration issues locally while aligning with federal standards.

Chicago, a focal point of undocumented migration, has seen a notable influx of over 43,000 asylum-seekers since August 31, 2022, underscoring the need for such legislative measures.

Under the new law, applicants must fulfill specific criteria, including passing a driving exam, holding valid auto insurance, demonstrating one year of state residency, and submitting personal and immigration details. Unlike the previous TVDLs valid for three years, the new licenses will be valid for four years but will bear the marking “Federal Limits Apply,” distinguishing them from REAL ID cards.

J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Governor.

The REAL ID card, recognized federally by its gold star, will become essential for domestic air travel and entry into secure federal facilities starting May 7, 2025. Governor Pritzker’s administration has shown ongoing support for migrant services, recently announcing an additional $70 million in funding towards these efforts. Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) anticipates that these new IDs will streamline processes at the Illinois secretary of state’s office and potentially reduce arrests related to driving without a license. Despite skepticism, Tsao stresses the importance of community education about the benefits of the initiative.

Illinois now joins several other states, including California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon, in providing driver’s licenses or similar IDs to undocumented migrants. This policy reflects Illinois’s commitment to facilitating mobility and fostering social inclusion for all residents, irrespective of immigration status.

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