Panel OKs bill to ban licenses for illegal aliens.
SALEM - Illegal immigrants no longer would be able to obtain driver's licenses in Oregon under a bill passed by a House committee Monday.
The measure, House Bill 2608, would require an applicant to present proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residence in order for the state to issue a driver's license. Currently, the state requires only a combination of other documents - for example, a driver's license from another state, a marriage license and a W-2 pay form.
The House Transportation Committee passed the tougher standard after rejecting amendments that would have allowed illegal aliens to obtain "drive-only" versions of licenses. These licenses would have permitted them to drive, but could not have served as recognized identification by airport security or other federal agents.
Either licensing method would have brought Oregon into compliance with a federal requirement, finalized this month by Congress, mandating proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency to get a license. The federal push came in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which four of the 19 hijackers used state-issued drivers licenses to board the airplanes they later crashed.
Oregon is one of nine states that allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license.
Committee Chairman George Gilman, R-Medford, voted with the panel's Republican majority, which passed HB 2608 on a party-line vote. But he said he would have preferred the alternate version that allowed illegal immigrants to drive. However, he said he was convinced it could not pass in the Republican-controlled House. Gilman said it was likely that the Democrat-controlled Senate would adopt the "drive-only" version, leaving the two chambers to negotiate a final version.
Republicans have been torn between two constituencies. One is comprised of anti-immigration activists who want to halt the flow of foreigners, mainly from Mexico, who use taxpayer-financed public services, such as public education. The other group: businesses that rely on noncitizen workers for construction crews, nursery laborers and other jobs.
"I come from an agricultural area, and I can tell you there's a lot of jobs out there that U.S. citizens are reluctant to do," said Gilman, a farmer. He said the bill would be tough on illegal workers and on employers.
The workers already can't get work - legally - "and if they can't get a driver's license, they can't get (car) insurance," he said.
Rep. Terry Beyer, vice-chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, joined the panel's two other Democrats in voting against the bill.
The measure "could drive the problem deeper underground, rather than solve it," the Springfield lawmaker said.
Beyer said it was clear why members of the majority party retreated from the compromise version: "The Republicans who were backing it just got bombarded with calls and e-mails."
Jim Ludwick, executive director of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, said he strongly opposed the drive-only version - and made that clear to Republicans.
"You would make it legal for an illegal alien to drive to a job he doesn't legally hold because he doesn't have documentation" to be working in the United States, said Ludwick, whose group also has been lobbying lawmakers to set heightened proof-of-citizenship standards to register to vote. His group in addition has worked against a bill that would make noncitizen residents eligible for reduced "in-state" tuition rates.
Unlike those bills, the driver's license bill is one that the Legislature is under pressure to pass in some form. That's because Congress already has mandated that states set a nationwide standard, specifying forms of identification needed in order to obtain a driver's license.
States have three years to comply.
Lorna Youngs, administrator of Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, said she prefers the Legislature act this session, rather than wait until the next session, in 2007.
Currently, the state requires two "primary documents," such as a valid out-of-state driver's license or a birth certificate, or one primary document along with two "secondary documents," which could include an Oregon student body card, a W-2 pay form or a government-issued marriage license.
The new federal standard requires proof of citizenship or legal presence, such as a birth certificate issued in the United States, or naturalization or legal residency papers from the federal government. Also, the applicant would have to provide proof of a Social Security number and an address.
The additional requirements would increase the state's work load. The new processing would require the equivalent of seven full-time employees in motor vehicle services field offices, Youngs said. That would cost $460,000 in the 2007-09 biennium, the state estimates.