On immigration and schools

By STATE SEN. KWAME RAOUL (D-13)

Like so many Americans, I am a child of immigrants. My parents left Haiti to pursue a better life here in Chicago. They eked out a piece of the American dream for me, and they used their talents to give back to their new home. I understand the positive contributions immigrants make to our economy and communities, whether or not they are documented.

During the fall veto session, I’ve been honored to help advance legislation that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a Temporary Visitor’s Driver’s License (TVDL). Like other licensed drivers, TVDL holders must pass a test and purchase liability insurance. Because uninsured immigrant drivers cause an estimated $64 million in damage claims each year, the temporary license program will not only make our roads safer but keep premiums low for drivers who are already insured.

Critics say we should not give legal privileges to individuals who have come to this country without authorization. They are denying the reality that 250,000 undocumented individuals already live in Illinois and are driving to jobs, stores and their children’s schools. On its own, Illinois cannot reform our country’s flawed approach to immigration, and I call on the federal government to address this pressing matter promptly but with compassion, consistency and sound judgment. Meanwhile, I’m proud Illinois is stepping up to the plate to make sure all drivers are qualified, licensed and insured, regardless of immigration status.

Another legislative measure I’ve supported during the veto session gives the leadership of Chicago Public Schools more time to solicit community feedback before publishing its school closure list. Closure and “turn around” plans are understandably contentious, and a wall of mistrust has blocked effective communication among parents, teachers, community leaders and the CPS administration about how school actions affect our students.

The new CEO of CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, came to Springfield last week asking legislators to move the deadline for releasing the proposed school action list from December 1 to next March 31. She pledges to use the intervening four months to gather additional public input. She also has promised a five-year moratorium on closing schools due to underutilization. Only time will tell if CPS will keep its word and if the extended timeline will produce a less haphazard and more conciliatory process. Dr. Byrd-Bennett has taken the reins at a challenging time. I wish her all the best, and I only ask that she – and all involved in school closure decisions – truly prioritize the wellbeing of our students and their communities.