Residents of the state of Oregon are on the cusp of a vote regarding legislation that would allow the acquisition of driver’s licenses by immigrants who lack proof of legal residency in the United States. Representatives of Kate Brown, the Oregonian Secretary of State, said on Friday that opponents of the proposed legislation had submitted over 70,000 signatures. The Elections Division determined recently that only 58,291 of those signatures were legitimate and valid but that was sufficient for a referendum to be put in front of voters in November of 2014. Consequently, the law will not go into effect on January 1st as it was originally scheduled. Those wishing to obtain a driver’s license once the law goes into effect will likely need to also obtain legal counsel from an immigration attorney in the United States.
The legislation in question would grant four-year restricted driver’s licenses that would be valid for driving but not for voting, boarding an airplane, obtaining government benefits, or buying a gun. The licenses would be marked with the distinction of a “Driver’s Card” in an effort to differentiate them from a traditional Oregon driver’s license. The bill was approved by the state legislature earlier in the year and with bipartisan support and was signed in front of a crowd of elated supporters by Governor John Kitzhaber. The law is intended for the tens of thousands of immigrants who live in Oregon without legal residency status, but could also be applicable to American citizens in Oregon who lack proper documentation for a driver’s license such as some elderly, homeless individuals, and veterans. All applicants are required to pass a driver’s test.
Rep. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, Rep. Sal Esquivel of Medford, and Oregonians for Immigration Reform – an anti-immigrant group based in Salem – are all sponsors of the referendum and agree that the law rewards illegal action and could attract immigrants from other states who lack documentation. Business leaders, members of the Oregonian law enforcement community, certain Latino groups, and other supporters believe that the law would cut down on the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers and they have determined to campaign against the referendum.
Certain law enforcement officials who support the law have said that the real issue is one of public safety. They believe that it will cut down on automobile accidents, and subsequently make Oregonian roads much safer, by giving people who lack documentation a sense of security when learning to drive. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon now joins twelve other states that have passed laws allowing for the acquisition of driver’s licenses or driving privilege cards by immigrants with no consideration for their immigration status.
The United States has a very complicated immigration situation, especially due to the federal system where states can make many of their own laws. If you or someone you know needs the counsel of a qualified immigration attorney, please contact Lyttle Law Firm PLLC at 512-215-5225.