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Oregon may grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants

Legislators are considering a measure expanding driver's license access to all Oregon regardless of immigration status, as long as they pass their driver's test and meet other DMV requirements.

Posted: Mar 26, 2019 6:06 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Every time Mariana Alvarez leaves her home, she crosses herself in prayer in hopes she will be able to return to her three children.

Alvarez moved to Salem from Mexico, and lives in Oregon without proof of legal residence. Under state law, that means she isn't eligible for a driver's license.

A quick trip to the grocery store or to the doctor's office could end in her deportation, and she told a crowd of hundreds of immigrant rights activists on Tuesday that she constantly lives "in fear of being separated."

But a federal overhaul of state driver's licenses could give Oregon the chance to grant driving privileges to Alvarez and the state's estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants. Legislators are considering a measure expanding driver's license access to all Oregon regardless of immigration status, as long as they pass their driver's test and meet other DMV requirements.

"Driver's licenses are such a core, basic need for families," said Andrea Williams, executive director of the immigration rights group Causa. "While we may disagree what to do federally about immigration reform, families should not be separated over a traffic stop."

Twelve states, plus the District of Columbia, currently provide driver's licenses regardless of immigration status.

Oregon's implementation of the 2005 federal Real ID Act, said Williams, is an opportune moment for the state to also make such a change. The Real ID Act, passed after 9/11, sets minimum security standards for all state IDs and requires that these enhanced IDs be presented to enter federal buildings and board domestic flights without a passport.

The Department of Homeland Security allows states to issue non-compliant cards for those who don't have the documentation to prove their lawful presence in the country, including victims of domestic violence and those experiencing homelessness.

Oregon, like many other states, will create a two-tier identification system and issue both Real IDs and standard driver's licenses, which are federally non-compliant.

Immigration rights advocates are pushing the legislature to drop citizenship as a requirement for standard driver's licenses, which would allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive. At least 12 other states are considering a similar measure.

The issue has become somewhat of a hot potato for Oregon, which, for years, was only one of eight states in the nation to grant licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Lawmakers initially reversed the practice in 2008 to comply with federal ID laws, then backtracked and voted to reinstate licenses for undocumented immigrants in 2013.

But that 2013 law never took effect, because opponents, including the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform, were able to put the issue to the ballot. Oregon voters overwhelmingly repealed the measure 66 to 34 percent.

This time an emergency clause in the bill would immediately implement the law upon passage, making it far more difficult for the group to repeal it at the ballot box through the state's robust referendum process.

"This is a slap in the face for citizen participation," said Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform. "You would think that after Oregon overwhelmingly voted against this, the legislature would at least bring it back to the voters to decide."

Williams, the leader of Causa, said that the emergency clause is necessary as the DMV will need the time to implement the change before the department starts issuing Real IDs in October 2020.

"It's not our Oregon values to have families be separated for trying to live their daily life," she said. "Nobody should have to live in fear of deported from their family for going to work or taking their children to school."

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