Illinois licenses the undocumented

We can’t imagine all undocumented immigrants in the Illinois Quad-Cities will be racing to sign up for their new Illinois driver’s license.

But we hope so.

Illinois this week became the 10th state to begin lawful licensing of drivers who are in the U.S. illegally. The Illinois Quad-City Secretary of State licensing branch in Silvis is one of 25 statewide where immigrants may apply for a license even if they have no visa.

The licenses are essential only because states have been left to wrestle with immigration problems punted by Congress. Absent immigration reform, states are faced with managing the consequences of unlicensed, uninsured drivers.

We know hardliners who would be eager to round up any undocumented immigrant, or let them face the consequences of driving unlicensed. But those consequences are affecting American citizens who drive alongside these immigrants.

Traffic stops for unlicensed driving can trigger deportation. Yet the feds often ignore undocumented traffic violators, leaving local police stuck in the middle. They can’t detain traffic offenders indefinitely. So they are released.

Licensing allows immigrants to be held accountable for traffic violations and accidents without risking deportation.

Illinois’ law requires immigrants to make an appointment with the license branch, then bring in documents to confirm their address for the prior year. Like all Illinois drivers, they must provide proof of insurance.

This necessarily cumbersome process may be too much for immigrants already fearful of apprehension. No doubt some – like plenty of U.S. citizens – will flout the law and drive without licenses or insurance.

But those who do come forward for licenses should be commended, not for sneaking into this country, but for owning up to the responsibilities that come with the privilege of driving here.

In a rational world, Congress would manage the flow of impoverished immigrants who risk a trip to America to take jobs illegally provided by thousands of American employers. But Congress has abdicated rationality on many fronts, leaving states to muddle through the consequences.

Illinois’ new licensing should not be viewed as a concession or accommodation. Rather it provides accountability for undocumented immigrants who drive, and protection for American citizens with whom they share the road.