Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents in Oregon on the Ballot

Oregon voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to overturn a state law that grants driver’s cards to Oregonians who can’t prove legal residency. The legislature passed the bill in 2013, but opponents of the law gathered enough signatures to send the measure to the polls as a ballot initiative. The outcome—if enough people oppose the law—could stop it dead in its tracks. 

In its 2013 Immigration Report, the National Conference of State Legislatures paints a picture of a rapidly changing environment in immigration policy. Oregon is not alone in updating driver’s license requirements. Many of its neighbor states passed similar legislation prior to and during 2013. 

The law as it stands requires applicants to pass both a written and practical test, verify residence in Oregon for more than a year, and provide proof of identity and date of birth. The law is only designed to be used for driving purposes. Yes on 88, a group supportive of the law, reminds its supporters, “The driver card may not be used as identification for air travel, to enter a federal building, to register to vote, or to obtain any government benefit requiring proof of citizenship or lawful presence in United States.”

Endorsers of the law are aplenty. On its website, Yes to 88 says driver cards will “help Oregon residents follow the law and improve safety” and that many Oregonians “need this option to safely get to work, church, and school.”

Despite the number of support groups, some high profile critics are sharing their doubts. The Sheriffs of Oregon Political Action Committee, for one, has taken an official stance denouncing the law. The Oregonian newspaper quoted Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin as saying, “Offering privilege to drive to people who are (already) breaking the law makes no sense to those of us who enforce the law.”

The groups organizing the veto referendum are Oregonians for Immigration Reform and Protect Oregon Driver Licenses. Protect Oregon Driver Licenses advocates for a “no” vote on the ballot measure and argues that driver cards would not make roads safer. It says the law is actually distracting voters from the more serious problem of illegal immigration. It claims states with similar laws don’t necessarily have higher rates of insured drivers, like New Mexico, which is near the top of the list of states with the most uninsured drivers. Protect Oregon Driver Licenses also maintains the negative impacts of a “yes” vote would give wrongful advantage for businesses that employ illegal immigrants over businesses that follow the law; it also would legitimize the presence of illegal aliens by issuing them a formal piece of identification, the group claims.

The petition to put the measure on the ballot barely succeeded, but opposition groups were able to push it through. Only 58,291 of the submitted 70,973 were validated; the groups needed 58,142 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Oregon allows voting by mail, and all registered voters will be mailed a ballot. For those who wish to cast their ballot in person, each county clerk’s office will have physical voting locations that will be open Nov. 4  from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.