SPRINGFIELD -- Two Arlington Heights Catholic leaders Wednesday were at the Illinois Capitol urging state lawmakers to allow undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses.
Brother Michael Gosch of the Clerics of St. Viator said requiring licenses would require immigrants to go through the typical safety steps required to get one. Plus, the state would get money from vehicle fees and license holders are required to have insurance.
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"They would have to know the rules of the road. That, we believe, would make them safer drivers," Gosch said.
Sister Kristine Vorenkamp of the Living World Center said religious leaders see families at local jails that are split up when an undocumented immigrant is arrested on charges of not having a driver's license. They often don't have money for fines or an attorney, she said, and the relatively small infraction can lead to deportation.
"We see all these families that are being destroyed because they were picked up without a license," Vorenkamp said.
Opponents say driving privileges should be reserved for those who are in the U.S. legally and that granting any official documentation could open the door for other claims.
The controversial issue might come up soon in Springfield. Democrats could see a political opening as they gained seats in the Capitol -- including from the suburbs -- in part because of an increasing Latino population that tended to vote for Democrats.
Some Republican leaders have said wooing Latinos is important for the GOP in future elections, so the immigrant driver's licenses vote could prove an early test of that idea. Top Democrats including Gov. Pat Quinn have vocally supported the plan in recent weeks.
Republican lawmakers on the Senate floor could be seen discussing the issue privately Wednesday.
A proposal hasn't yet been debated in Springfield, where lawmakers are meeting this week and next.