Illinois Celebrates Hard-won Driver's License Victory — State Action Alert | LIRS
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Illinois Celebrates Hard-won Driver’s License Victory — State Action Alert

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button_icon_state_alertI was glad to receive this first-hand view of one of the most important state-level victories in the ongoing struggle for justice for immigrants. While these regular Thursday action alerts are designed to keep you up-to-date on the latest state issues and opportunities to act, sometimes it’s good just to pause and celebrate a win.

This update comes from Jennifer DeLeon, Director of Lutheran Advocacy—Illinois, the state public policy arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which Lutheran Social Services of Illinois is a partner.

It is a pleasure to lift up their work, for which we’re very grateful. And… congratulations to all the groups and people who won this victory!

Sunday, January 27 was a historic day for Illinois as hundreds of people gathered in an elementary school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood — the heart of the Mexican community — to witness Illinois’s Governor Pat Quinn sign legislation that will enable 250,000 undocumented immigrant motorists in Illinois to apply for a Temporary Visitor’s Driver License (TVDL). The event was attended by important political leaders, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and prominent members of the Illinois legislature and leaders of the various immigrant organizations and coalitions.

The law will go into effect November 27, 2013 (For details, see “What the New Driver’s License Law Means – SB 957”).  It will allow undocumented motorists to apply for TVDLs.  Applicants will need to prove they have lived in Illinois for one year, provide a valid passport or consular identification document, maintain insurance on their vehicles, and pass all relevant written, vision, and road tests.

Many factors contributed to this bill finally passing after a similar measure failed seven years ago. One major factor in this victory that cannot be overlooked is the fact that Latino voters comprised 12 percent of Illinois’s total electorate in 2012 election, compared to just 1 percent 20 years ago. This fight was led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, of which we (Lutheran AdvocacyIllinois) are a member. We worked hard to gather prominent bipartisan leadership and reached out to a broad group of non-traditional allies, such as the insurance industry, small business, and law enforcement.

The faith voice was also present in the fight as our Lutheran advocates made phone calls, sent emails, and educated their congregations on this important issue. I want to extend a special “thank you” to Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metro Chicago Synod for his advocacy in reaching out to key elected officials.

Having worked on this important piece of legislation for more than 13 years, I couldn’t help but think of the real champions of the day: the hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Poland, the Philippines, Mexico, and many other countries. Year after year, these individuals gathered petitions, held workshops, did presentations at churches and with community groups, and also gathered in the state’s capitol to advocate for the right to drive. These brave immigrants put themselves at risk by telling their stories — stories of the fear they face when they drive their children to school, drive to work, to the store or to church.

Although I didn’t go to church Sunday, as the mariachis played and people hugged, cried, and celebrated, this weeks’ lesson — Luke 4:14-21 — came to  mind as I realized I was witnessing what bringing good news to the poor and release for the captives looks like. Our prayers had been answered, and I know Sunday was a huge, long-awaited victory and HOPE of what is to come.

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