Walkers aim to get driver's licenses back for undocumented immigrants

Article author: 
Peter Wong
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Article date: 
Friday, October 26, 2012
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
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A small group began a four-day walk Friday from Portland to Salem to seek reinstatement of driver licenses for undocumented immigrants.

The walkers were scheduled to reach Salem for an event Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol. Eight started out on the walk, which will be in four stages. Friday’s stage ended in Oregon City. Canby, Woodburn and Salem will be the other stops.

They will urge Gov. John Kitzhaber to take steps to restore access by undocumented immigrants to licenses, which have been more restrictive since a 2007 executive order by then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

The Legislature in 2008 made legal presence in the United States a requirement for obtaining driver licenses and nondriver identification cards, so it would take action by the Legislature to change it. Among the documents that can show proof of legal presence are a birth certificate, passport or tribal ID.

“We want to urge Gov. Kitzhaber to make it (change) one of his priorities,” said Sindy Avila, a spokeswoman for Oregon Dream Activists.

“We know he cannot reverse the law and that it has to go to the Legislature. But we feel this is a great first step in educating the community about how not having drivers’ licenses affects undocumented people, and spreads our message.”

Avila said her group wants to call attention to the necessity for drivers’ licenses, which allow mobility of people for work, school and family chores.

The walkers will stay at parishes that have opened their doors to them along the way, Avila said.

Hundreds showed up at the Capitol on April 18. 2011, for a legislative hearing on a bill to allow the state to issue licenses without proof of legal presence. But the bill was heard after a deadline to advance legislation, and it died without further action.

Kulongoski and lawmakers acted to comply with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which requires states to take specified steps to make driver licenses more secure if licenses are used as identification to board commercial aircraft or enter federal buildings.

The federal law does allow states to issue licenses without proof of legal presence if the licenses are clearly marked as not valid for federal identification purposes.

New Mexico and Washington issue some licenses without proof of legal presence. Washington also issues an “enhanced” license that can be used for federal identification purposes and identification to and from Canada.

Governors of both states have proposed legal-presence licenses, but lawmakers have not approved those requests.

Utah issues a driving privilege card that must be renewed every year. A similar proposal was shelved by Oregon lawmakers in 2005, although it cleared a House committee. Tennessee also issued a separate card, but has repealed its law.