No legislation has been written, so it remains to be seen how Illinois handles the details. Local news reports said illegal immigrants likely would join a program that allows legal foreign visitors to get temporary licenses.
Ms. Kephart said if they follow Utah’s model and make it clear the license is not valid for federal purposes such as boarding an aircraft or entering a federal building, it would not run afoul of Real ID.
The issue of licenses have been touchy for years. Driver’s licenses are considered an entry into much of American society, and those who favor a crackdown on illegal immigration say granting them to illegal immigrants helps lawbreakers blend in.
But those who support the idea say it makes all communities safer by reducing the number of uninsured drivers and giving police a way to identify people accurately.
Illinois officials said there are 250,000 unlicensed immigrants in their state, and licensing and insuring half of them would save state drivers $46 million a year in premium payments.
How a new policy would mesh with the federal Real ID law remains to be seen.
Congress passed Real ID in 2005, but has repeatedly delayed full implementation as states have complained about the burden of compliance.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and author of Real ID, wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
The current deadline is Jan. 15, though Ms. Kephart said that likely will have to be pushed back again because the Homeland Security Department’s compliance office has been cut to the bone, and it couldn’t even handle implementation.
Ms. Kephart said states that have moved to grant licenses see themselves as trapped.
“I think you’re seeing them concerned that the president is going to smack their hands for not complying with his view of what immigration should look like,” she said. “I think they’re feeling like they don’t have a choice at this point. They’ve seen what happens to states when they refuse, and they’re certainly not going to fight that in the driver’s licenses realm.”