By Nova Safo, CNN
Chicago, Illinois (CNN) - A coalition of immigrant advocates, as well as business, labor and civic groups in Illinois are publicly backing a proposal to grant drivers licenses to the state’s undocumented immigrant drivers. Those drivers, which number 250,000 according to advocates, would be able to acquire a special license, different than the one granted to citizens, with which they can legally drive and obtain car insurance.
The proposal is part of a larger debate over how undocumented workers are treated in various states. The action in Illinois comes just a week after the presidential election, after the emerging power of the Latino voter became clear. Latinos made up 10 per cent of voters and helped President Obama secure victories in key battleground states. Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote, compared to 27 percent for Mitt Romney, who had held a tough stance on illegal immigration.
That was a motivating factor for Latino voters to show up at the polls, said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights:
[1:17] “Certainly this was an issue we used to motivate Latino immigrant voters to get to the polls this past election. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned for both Democrats and Republicans, that the Latino immigrant vote can’t be taken for granted.”
Illinois advocates are pushing the driver’s license bill on multiple fronts – claiming it is good for public safety and the economy. Omar Duque, president of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, there is a clear economic incentive:
[1:31] “Immigrants who drive legally are more likely to work, spend, and contribute to our economy. Immigrant families were also less able to get to grocery stores or malls, and are limited in their purchases, because they have to walk.”
During the Republican presidential primary campaign, Mitt Romney voiced the other side of the immigration reform argument, one commonly heard from conservatives. In summary, it says letting up on the negative consequences of illegal immigration simply encourages more illegal immigration:
[2:58] “We’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally.”
Positions such as that one are credited with Romney getting the lowest proportion of the Latino vote of any Republican presidential candidate in almost 20 years. Mark Curran, sheriff in Illinois’ Lake County, sees that as an alarming trend that his fellow Republicans must reverse:
[3:34] “We’re done. Put a fork in the Republican Party. Nationally put a fork in them everywhere, if they put up the walls and send the message: Latino, Polish, immigrant community you are not welcome. Forget about it. I’m getting out of politics.”
In the last week, there’s been a dramatic shift among some Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner has signaled immigration reform might be possible. Conservative host Sean Hannity reversed his position and is supporting a pathway to citizenship.
Illinois advocates hope their state will ride the trend towards finally enacting the driver’s license proposal.