New laws provide more benefits for noncitizens

Obtaining driver's licenses, becoming peace officers, receiving Medicaid

Veronica Espina is board president of the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network.

Illinois' immigrant community was the subject of two measures decided by the General Assembly this legislative session. If the bills are signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, noncitizens will become eligible to obtain standard driver's licenses and will be allowed to become peace officers.

House Bill 3882 passed May 24 along party lines and would make it possible for noncitizens who pass a regular exam and meet other requirements to obtain a driver's license that may be used as official identification. According to the Illinois Secretary of State's office, more than 300,000 drivers use the Temporary Visitor Driver's License, which is only good for driving and not for proof of identification. Holders of a standard driver's license may open a bank account, turn on utilities, buy plane tickets, rent an apartment, get married and pick up prescriptions, while the TVDL is not valid identification for such purposes.

House Bill 3751 was approved May 19 and would allow noncitizens with a valid work permit under federal law to serve as police officers in the state. The bill passed unanimously in the House and along party lines in the Senate. Veronica Espina, founder of the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network, says this measure will strengthen the fabric of communities. "We at SIAN believe that communities are better served when institutions and systems represent them and include them in their workforce," she said. "The diversity that would come from this hiring [will help in] preventing, reporting and solving crimes." Noncitizens are already eligible to join the U.S. military, and Espina says allowing them to become peace officers is consistent with their high level of integration in the community. "DACA nurses, hospital workers, teachers and first responders worked side by side with citizens in Illinois to serve patients, students and seniors, persons with disabilities, and all of us, to keep us going during difficult times," said Espina.

This year's budget also dedicates approximately $550 million to pay for health services for noncitizens aged 42 or older in accordance with legislation passed in 2021. The amount was more than double Gov. Pritzker's estimate of $220 million given in February. According to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services chief of staff Ben Winick, new noncitizen enrollees will add about 65,000 people to the pool of people eligible for state-funded medical care.

Some of the cost of this program is hard to estimate because reliable data on the amount of taxes that undocumented immigrants pay is hard to obtain. Although undocumented workers are not allowed to have Social Security numbers, they may obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in order to pay income tax. According to the American Immigration Council, between 50 and 75 percent of undocumented workers pay income taxes through ITINs and others have taxes deducted from their paychecks when they use phony SSNs. According to the Cato Institute, poor immigrants use public benefits at a lower rate than poor native-born Americans. According to the IRS, tax returns with ITINs generated $5.8 billion in 2019, and according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants paid more than $750 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

Espina says that she hopes the Illinois General Assembly will continue to move in a positive direction regarding immigration rules in Illinois. She says immigrants only want the same things as everyone else, including the ability to integrate into the community. "We build businesses, pay taxes and create job opportunities within our communities," she said.

Don Howard is an intern at Illinois Times while completing his master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting at University of Illinois Springfield. He can be reached at [email protected] or 336-455-6966.

About The Author

Don Howard

Don Howard is an intern with University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting master's degree program. He is a former lawyer and Spanish speaker who has lived in both Mexico and Spain, and most recently relocated to Illinois from Georgia.

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