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Approve driver card measure.

Byline: The Register-Guard

When an overwhelming majority of Oregon lawmakers passed Senate Bill 833 last year allowing illegal immigrants to obtain four-year driver cards, their intent was clear, concise and commendable: to make the state's roads safer for all Oregonians.

Election 2014

Their intent was not, as opponents have claimed, to undermine federal immigration laws or to turn Oregon into a magnet for undocumented workers who would take jobs away from legal residents and siphon public resources.

The bill was primarily about public safety. And that's the prism through which voters should view Measure 88, which was placed on the Nov. 4 ballot after opponents gathered the 58,000-plus signatures needed for referral.

To be sure, the bill, which Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law May 1, 2013, would have other benefits. It would almost certainly reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the state's roads. It would benefit the state's economy by helping ensure that the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who work in the agricultural, service, construction and other sectors are licensed to drive and have insurance.

But public safety was priority No. 1 for state lawmakers, and that's why many Republican legislators, including some who have deep concerns about illegal immigration, supported SB 833.

To receive a driver card, an individual would have to pass a written test demonstrating a satisfactory knowledge of the state's driving laws. He or she would also have to pass a driving test in a vehicle for which they would be required to produce proof of insurance. Bottom line: They would have to meet all the requirements that Oregonians must meet for a conventional driver's license except proof of legal residence in the United States.

That's important because - despite the magical thinking of opponents who believe undocumented immigrants would stay off the roads or, better yet in their minds, self-deport, if Measure 88 fails - the hard reality is that most would continue to drive vehicles on Oregon roads without driver cards, as they have done since state legislators in 2008 tightened the rules on Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division identification requirements, under pressure from federal authorities. Parents would continue to take their children to and from school and drive to the supermarket or doctor's office. Wage earners would continue driving back and forth to work, and often while on the job, every day. Families would continue driving to church on Sundays. And they would do all that driving without having first proved they know the rules of the road and, in most cases, without having insurance.

Voters should also keep in mind that - again contrary to the claims of opponents - undocumented immigrants play a vital role in the state's economy. Access to driver cards would allow them not only to drive to jobs but also to get out more easily to purchase goods and services, providing what Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Nurseries Association, calls a significant "multiplier effect" for the state's economy.

While it seems doubtful many undocumented workers would leave the state if Measure 88 were defeated, Stone and leaders in other industries warn they would be hurt if that does happen to any degree. Stone notes that many of the state's nurseries are already short of labor, and experience has made clear that legal residents are unlikely to fill the employment void.

Opponents argue that the measure encourages illegal immigration by accommodating people who have broken federal immigration laws. There is some truth to that argument, but it's important to remember the state of Oregon does not enforce federal immigration laws; the U.S. Constitution makes clear that's the exclusive job of the federal government. By passing SB 833, state lawmakers were trying to cope with a fundamentally broken national immigration system that Congress and the president have negligently failed to fix. As a result, there are tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Oregon - and millions more across the country - who live, work and, yes, drive on their states' highways. SB 833 merely recognized that reality and the need to keep the state's roads safe for all drivers. It would not weaken an already hopelessly weak and dysfunctional immigration system.

Fears that driver cards could be used as immigration documents or to deceive authorities are also unwarranted. SB 833 made clear that the cards can't be used for federal identification purposes, to register to vote or to obtain other public benefits. Law enforcement officials note that the cards could help them by adding more names and faces to the state's database and by helping to further integrate immigrants into their communities, making them more willing to report crimes.

Sooner or later Congress will reform the nation's immigration system and bring the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, including an estimated 160,000 in Oregon, out of the shadows and make it unnecessary for states to enact laws such as SB 833. Until then, voters should make sure undocumented immigrants can drive legally and safely by voting "yes" on Measure 88.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Sep 14, 2014
Words:837
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