Tuesday, November 18, 2003
By Kristen McQueary
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gery Chico, former Chicago school board president and a Mexican-American, will lobby state lawmakers this week for legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
"The fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of people driving without licenses, insurance or training, and we're not going to stop it by maintaining steadfastness to the way we apply for driver's licenses," Chico said. "I think it will make our roads safer."
Chico is the latest high-ranking Latino official to lend muscle to the measure, which failed in the state Senate last week but is expected to be called again for a vote. The Legislature is scheduled to meet this week then recess until January.
Even as support builds from leaders such as Chico, opposition is mounting. Families of Sept. 11 victims who fear the homeland security implications of such a change may hold a news conference in Springfield this week.
Republicans in the Senate who rejected the bill said it would eliminate an incentive for undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
"There are concerns we are giving (people) reasons to not become citizens and opening, with welcome arms, people whose intent may be to harm," said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Republican leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville).
The bill would allow people without Social Security numbers to use another form of identification on their driver's license applications, such as a tax identification number or a passport. They would be required to undergo driver tests and would pay a higher fee to cover the administration of the program in Secretary of State Jesse White's office.
White is neutral on the bill, his spokesman said.
Chico said the license bill is one issue on which he'll focus in Springfield this week, in addition to joining other Senate candidates at a forum Tuesday.
The former president of the Chicago Board of Education and chief-of-staff to Mayor Richard Daley faces seven other candidates so far for the Democratic nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. Often outspoken, Chico worked with former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas and said he is the only candidate with a record of action. Together, Chico and Vallas raised test scores and shifted the school budget from debt-ridden to cash-balanced.
"Look at what a candidate can do," he said. "Don't get stuck on the rhetoric."