SPRINGFIELD-Republicans put up a united front Tuesday behind a legislative push that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary drivers licenses, reversing a stance from five years ago when the GOP voted en masse against the idea.
The General Assembly's two GOP leaders, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), pledged their support for the measure after being no-shows last month during a rally organized by supporters of the bill and attended by Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and others.
"I think this make a lot of sense, and for those who want to say this is the wrong thing to do and there's all kinds of potential for mischief, be very clear this doesn't allow someone to use this temporary form of identification to vote, board a plane...and this will in my opinion make our roads safer," Cross told reporters.
Radogno praised the legislation, too, which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses for three years at a time, so long as they undergo training and prove they have auto insurance. As many as 250,000 motorists in Illinois are believed to be undocumented immigrants.
"I think the effort we have before us today is a good one. I think we've made a lot of strides to address the concerns people have raised and that we should move forward. I think there definitely is a public-safety advantage here," she said.
Radogno and Cross were joined at Tuesday's Illinois coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights event by former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar, GOP state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), state Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano (R-Elmwood Park) and state Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).
The GOP got socked at the polls last month, in part, because Latino voters tended to migrate to Democrats nationally and in Illinois, but both Radogno and Cross denied that was a motivating factor in their decision to embrace Senate Bill 957.
"We had been talking before the election," Cross said. "We've worked with [ICIRR CEO] Lawrence [Benito] on other issues. ... We had a meeting -- Skip, Lawrence and I -- a month out just to talk about this before the election, so I don't feel like we're Johnny Come Latelys."