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Getting `Real' in Oregon.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has a promising idea that would make it easier for immigrants to drive legally, while still allowing the state to comply with the federal Real ID Act.

The governor told a Eugene audience last Tuesday that he wants Oregon to issue driver's licenses only to those who can prove they are citizens or otherwise legally in the United States and Oregon. But he said he also wants those lacking such proof to be able to obtain a second-tier permit that gives them driving privileges.

It's a reasoned and practical response to a dilemma posed by the Real ID Act, which Congress approved in 2005. Under the law, states are required to revamp their driver's licenses to meet uniform national standards for acceptance as federal identification.

Kulongoski's proposal recognizes that there are an estimated 175,000 illegal immigrants in Oregon and, like it or not, that many of them are drivers. It also recognizes that it is in absolutely no one's interests if illegal immigrants are denied legal driving privileges.

Under the governor's proposal, illegal immigrants who want licenses would have to prove they know how to drive and understand the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel. They also would have to buy car insurance, which would mean they would pay their fair share of insurance costs instead of dumping the burden on other drivers.

Anti-immigrant critics are certain to denounce Kulongoski's proposal on the sham grounds that it weakens national security. But it's hard to figure how having some Department of Motor Vehicle records about illegal immigrants wouldn't be better than having none at all and leaving illegal immigrants entirely in the shadows. While Kulongoski has yet to provide details, his proposal presumably would require immigrants to produce identification, including documentation of residence, and to have their pictures taken.

As envisioned by Kulongoski, the permits would allow people to drive to and from work but would in no way serve as official identification. Under the Real ID Act, they could not be used to board airplanes, enter federal buildings or even to conduct transactions with banks and other federally regulated businesses. They would have one purpose: To allow immigrants who can prove their identity - and their ability to drive safely - to drive legally in Oregon.

Several problems need to be addressed before Kulongoski's idea becomes law. They include the likelihood that many undocumented immigrants would be reluctant to apply for a document that would clearly identify them as lacking legal status. Then there's the very real question of whether people using such documents would be subject to harassment.

The Real ID Act requires that states revamp their licenses to meet stringent new standards by 2013. Those standards include the use of special paper, laser engraving, secret markers, mandatory relicensing in person, proof of residence and Social Security cards. The licenses will contain electronically readable information that can be used to check bearers against a national database.

While the Real ID Act has serious flaws that should be fixed by Congress, the reasoning behind it is sound. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission rightly recommended the establishment uniform national licensing standards. Those who denounce the creation of a "national ID card" should remember that the 9/11 hijackers obtained a total of 17 driver's licenses and 13 nondriver IDs, seven of them by fraudulent means. At least six of the hijackers used those IDs to board their planes.

Congress has failed to provide the billions of dollars that states will need to make the high-tech transition to Real ID. Federal lawmakers may also have to change the deadlines for compliance and provide assurances to Americans who fear the new IDs may leave them even more vulnerable to identify theft.

But it's clear that Oregon must eventually upgrade its drivers licenses to meet new federal standards. As the Legislature tackles this difficult chore, it should make certain that undocumented immigrants can continue to drive legally in Oregon.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Governor proposes second-tier driving permits
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 7, 2007
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