Hispanics, a growing voting bloc, have new political clout.
Members of the state Senate fell all over themselves this week as they rushed to approve legislation authorizing the issuance of driver's licenses for people who have illegally entered this country and reside in Illinois.
The vote was more proof that elections really do have consequences. Democrats picked up a big share of the Hispanic vote in the recent presidential election while Republicans did not.
Democrats want to keep their Hispanic supporters while Republicans hope, probably in vain, to be seen by them in a more favorable light.
So the politics surrounding this issue are crystal clear. No less an expert on winning elections than former Gov. Jim Edgar described the license proposal as "good politics."
But the policy benefits are speculative at best. At worst, the license plan provides another incentive for residents of other countries to enter the country illegally, not only jumping ahead of those who are waiting to enter the country legally but putting further stress on limited state and national resources better directed to American citizens.
The license plan, which now goes to the House for consideration, is premised on the idea that many of the roughly 250,000 illegal immigrants in Illinois drive without a license. Further, the contention is that they pose a risk to Illinoisans because they will have accidents but not be insured. That is true.
Where fantasy enters the argument is the notion that illegal immigrants, once properly licensed to drive, will universally rush out to purchase automobile insurance. Senators were so carried away by the public-safety aspect of their argument that the debate reached foolish levels.
"We will definitely save lives by passing this bill," said Senate President John Cullerton. Someone should tell Cullerton that while car insurance covers losses, it does not prevent accidents.
As political cover, the insurance argument passes muster. But it's a rhetorical pretext intended to put a shiny gloss on what really amounts to rewarding illegal behavior for purely political reasons.
Consider this — illegal immigrants live in Illinois because they ignore this country's immigration laws. They drive because they ignore Illinois' motor vehicle laws.
People are supposed to believe that those who violate state and federal laws with hardly a second thought will rush out to purchase automobile insurance because not having it would be a violation of state law.
Illinois already has thousands of properly licensed drivers who ignore the mandatory insurance law. They either can't afford it or are just too irresponsible to consider that having insurance is the right thing to do. Why would illegal immigrants be any different, particularly when ignoring the law is a routine part of their daily life?
Unfortunately, the merits of the argument are irrelevant. Politics always trumps policy in Illinois. Hispanics are now perceived as an increasingly important voting bloc, and politicians are rushing to curry their favor. So licensed they may be. But insured? That's another matter altogether.