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Lake County sheriff gets on board licensing undocumented drivers

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 16, 2013 1:56AM

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran has come out in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Curran, a Republican and devout Roman Catholic who in 2009 began moderating his previously tough stance on immigration, argues that licensing undocumented immigrants will make roads safer, allow for more efficient and productive policing and help improve the economy.

“Economically, we need to talk immigration reform, not deporting people,” Curran said. “They need to get to work and we should want them to get to work so our economy grows.”

The Highway Safety Coalition, which includes leaders from law enforcement, health care, business, education, labor and faith communities, is calling on the Illinois General Assembly to “put highway safety first” by passing legislation in the upcoming veto session authorizing licensing and insurance for all Illinois drivers, regardless of their immigration status.

Curran also said that ensuring licensing of all drivers will save lives.

“I’ve driven in Mexico — of course we have immigrants from all over — but they don’t have the same rules of the road and it is more dangerous. We have written exams and a pragmatic component where somebody observes you driving.

“Licensing also means the ability to obtain insurance,” he added. “Uninsured drivers are a tremendous drain on everyone else.”

Curran said that in a time of diminishing police forces, it’s a poor use of time to tie up an officer for an hour for calls involving unlicensed drivers and “calling for a tow.”

Illinois is home to an estimated 250,000 immigrant motorists who can’t get licensed because they lack Social Security numbers, according to the coalition, which states that unlicensed and uninsured drivers are involved in 79,600 accidents in Illinois each year at a cost of $660 million in damage claims.

In 2011, 42 percent of all fatal crashes in Illinois involved an unlicensed driver. Nationwide, unlicensed motorists are five times likelier to be involved in a fatal crash than licensed drivers.

The coalition says other pluses to universal licensing include identification of motorists for use by police and other first responders; lower auto insurance premiums; fewer drivers leaving the scene of an accident; and lighter burdens on courts and jails.

In Lake County, 470 or 28 percent of all motorists booked at the county jail for traffic offenses from October 2011 through September 2012 were undocumented immigrants, according to the coalition.

Curran said he’s been speaking around the state and country on immigration issues and that top Republicans are moving to soften their position on immigration in light of the strong Latino vote for the re-election of President Obama. On Friday, Curran spoke at the Rosemont Horizon to a crowd of thousands before a Latino Caucus of the General Assembly.

“I’ve heard from a lot of immigrant women who are pro-life and said they wanted to vote for Romney, but couldn’t given what he said about self-deportation,” Curran said. “To the immigrant community, family is everything. They’re in it together. They’re here to stay and they’re committed to this issue.

“At some point,” Curran said, “there will be immigration reform.”

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