state legislation

OFIR member Cliff Girod explains the "inequity" of tuition equity

OFIR member Cliff Girod wrote and outstanding op ed which was recently published in the Statesman Journal.
  Read more about OFIR member Cliff Girod explains the "inequity" of tuition equity

Tuition equity bill goes to Senate

In-state tuition for immigrant students without documents, which made it through the Oregon House by a big vote Friday, drew differing reactions from participants in the long-running debate.

“I can finally go home, look my parents in the eye and say, ‘Mom and Dad, I can go to a four-year college,’” said Hugo Nicolas, a Chemeketa Community College student who was one of many students present in the House gallery for the vote.

“It means more freedom for me — and more responsibility,” said Nicolas, who testified last week for passage of House Bill 2787. “So I’m going to have to work harder to shoulder my investment.”

A 2011 graduate of McNary High School, Nicolas hopes to transfer to the University of Oregon, where he plans to study economics and Chinese.

Victor Mena was able to transfer from Portland Community College to Portland State University, where he is studying criminal justice and hopes to join the Navy.

“I grew up here ever since I was 3,” said Mena, whose change of visa allowed him to attend Portland State. “Maybe tuition equity does not affect me anymore, but it will definitely affect a lot of other potential students.”

The 38-18 vote moved the bill to the Senate, where Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, said, “it’s likely to pass — they’ve got the numbers.”

The Senate passed similar bills in 2003 and 2011, but the House let them die without a vote. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is the chief Senate sponsor of the current bill.

They are cowards using children as their shields to get something like this through,” Ludwick said after the vote. “This is just a denigration of the value of citizenship.”

Ludwick said immigrant students without legal presence can attend state universities now at out-of-state rates, which are three or four times higher than in-state rates that are partly subsidized by the state.

Although the bill does not make them eligible for state grants, Ludwick said, “Does anyone doubt that is the next step?”

The bill would allow state universities to charge in-state tuition if students meet specified conditions, including five years in U.S. schools and three in Oregon, graduation from high school or its equivalent in Oregon, and proof of intent to seek citizenship or legal status in the United States.

“They did not choose to come here; they were brought here,” said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, the bill’s floor manager. “They have no other country to go to, but they have plenty to offer this state. Unfortunately, they have become collateral damage of this country’s immigration debate.”

The bill was backed by the Oregon University System, student and immigrant-rights groups, and the state’s major business associations.

“It brings hope to current and former students in my hometown,” said Rep. Betty Komp,D-Woodburn, whose House district is the only one in the 2010 Census to have a majority of racial and ethnic minorities.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, said critics’ arguments that the university system would lose income from out-of-state tuition rates are wrong: these immigrant students are not attending and paying now. “You can’t lose something you don’t already have,” he said.

The House, on a party-line vote, defeated a Republican-backed substitute that would have set an expiration date, limited in-state tuition to those already here on the date it takes effect, and required students to be enrolled in a federal program for delayed deportations.

“It holds the university system to the same standard that all of our employers must comply with,” said Rep. Gene Whisnant,R-Sunriver.

The state bill would not by itself confer the authority for students to seek work permits in the United States.

But under a program of delayed deportations approved by President Barack Obama last year for those who arrived illegally in the United States as children, known by its acronym DACA, some participants are eligible for work permits. The state bill would recognize participation in the federal program as their proof of intent to seek legal status.

Five Republicans, including Rep. Vicki Berger of Salem, joined 33 Democrats to pass the bill.

Among those voting for it were Democratic Reps. Joe Gallegos of Hillsboro and Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland. Republican Rep. Sal Esquivel of Medford voted no.

Twelve other states, including Washington and California, have similar laws. A federal Dream Act — which passed the U.S. House in 2010 but died after a filibuster threat in the Senate — could become part of federal immigration legislation in the works.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is en route to Washington, D.C., for a conference, said he looks forward to signing the bill.

“By removing roadblocks to their post-secondary education, we open new opportunities to them and the opportunity for our state to capitalize on the investment we've made in these students through the K-12 system,” he said in a statement.

Hugo Nicolas, of Salem, testifies before the Oregon House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development at a public hearing on House Bill 2787, which would allow some students without immigration documents to qualify for in-state tuition rates. / KOBBI R. BLAIR / Statesman Journal

How they voted

How Mid-Valley representatives voted on House Bill 2787, which allows in-state tuition rates for students without immigration documents. A proposed substitute failed on a party-line vote.

Vicki Berger, R-Salem Yes
Kevin Cameron, R-Salem No
Brian Clem, D-Salem Yes
Vic Gilliam. R-Silverton No
Betty Komp, D-Woodburn Yes
Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio No
Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer Excused
Jim Thompson, R-Dallas No
Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill No

What’s next:

House Bill 2787, which passed the Oregon House on a 38-18 vote Friday, goes to the Senate. The bill is likely to be assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Read more about Tuition equity bill goes to Senate

Just who is the Oregon Legislature working for?

The Oregon Legislature has failed to pass a bill giving instate tuition benefits to illegal alien students for the past 10 years. Now, with the Democrats running the show, and some very misguided Republicans in their pocket, they are once again attempting to ram this bill down our throats. While this poll is not scientific, it is certainly open to anyone to express their opinion. If it's such a great idea, why does it fare so poorly in the Statesman Journal poll? Ask your Representative if they voted in favor of the HB 2787, passing it out of the House and sending it over to the Senate.

The House passed a bill allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students. If it becomes law, do you believe it will be beneficial for Oregon?

Yes 13%

No 84%

Don’t Know 1%

Total Votes: 349 Read more about Just who is the Oregon Legislature working for?

Immigration issues back in spotlight at Oregon Legislature

Debates over in-state tuition and driver’s licenses for Oregon’s undocumented immigrants drew thousands to the Capitol two years ago.

The Senate passed the tuition bill, as it had in 2003, but it died in an evenly split House. A Senate committee heard but did not advance the other proposal for driver’s licenses.

Those issues are back on the agenda of the 2013 Legislature, and so are the main players.

Immigrant-rights groups say they will push for measures that are likely to resemble those from 2011. Immigration critics say they will continue to oppose them, although they plan to emphasize different arguments.

But there are differences this time — mostly in the political environment.

While Democrats maintain a 16-14 majority over Republicans in the Senate they gained four seats in the Nov. 6 election to secure a 34-26 majority in the House.

The other difference is Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who took no public stances on either bill two years ago.

But on Nov. 30, Kitzhaber said he will sign a bill granting in-state tuition rates to state university students regardless of immigration status. He even suggested they should have access to grants.

Seven months earlier, Kitzhaber also issued a message — read aloud at a rally in Salem — committing him to resolve the issue of driver’s licenses. It’s not yet clear what form that will take, although a handful of states offer a couple of ways to go.

Case for in-state tuition

While federal immigration legislation could resolve the issue nationally, advocates say they will press for action that would add Oregon to the states granting conditional approval of in-state tuition rates for college students, regardless of their immigration status.

A new bill is likely to be along the lines of 2011’s Senate Bill 742, said Erik Sorensen, a spokesman for CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant-rights group that promoted the 2011 effort. That bill specified five conditions for eligibility, including residency in Oregon, graduation from high school and steps toward legal status.

Hundreds of students donned symbolic caps and gowns two years ago. One of them was Hugo Nicolas, then a senior at McNary High School who came to the Mid-Valley from Mexico at age 11. He was a senior class representative and a company leader for Junior ROTC at North Salem High School.

“I don’t feel right being here illegally, but Mexico is not my country, and it does not have the values I have come to know,” he told the House Rules Committee, which was hearing the Senate-passed bill.

Even at in-state tuition rates, which are roughly a third of out-of-state rates, Nicolas said his dream of attending the University of Oregon would be difficult because he still would not qualify for government financial aid. But he said the bill would have given him a chance.

The Senate bill failed to move from the House committee, and an effort to force a House vote on it came up short of the 31 signatures required. None of the 30 Republicans signed — not even its House sponsor.

The case against

Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which opposed the 2011 effort, acknowledged that the changed political balance in the House will make it tougher to prevail.

“They are pushing it again, and the makeup of the House and Senate is slanted toward those who want to pass it,” said Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, a spokesman for the group. “But we are going to fight it again.”

Ludwick said opponents will rely more on arguments that granting in-state status to such students will cost the state university system in terms of higher out-of-state rates they would pay otherwise.

“It means that at the University of Oregon, an illegal alien will get a $20,000-per-year benefit that would be denied to an American citizen who happened to graduate from high school in any other state,” he said.

State university officials, who supported the 2011 bill, said such students are unlikely to attend any state campus with the possible exception of Eastern Oregon University, which does not charge a differential for out-of-state students.

“Oregon cannot afford to miss the chance to provide as many students with an education that allows them to fully contribute to the future of our state,” John Minahan wrote in 2011, before he stepped down as president of Western Oregon University. Under his tenure, WOU recruited Hispanic and other students who were the first from the families to attend college.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states — including Washington and California — have laws allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Four others specifically ban them, and two others ban enrollment of any student who cannot prove legal presence in the United States.

Licenses: A sequel

Like most states, Oregon requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance of a state driver’s license or identification card. Lawmakers added the requirement in 2008 to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which sets standards for state licenses that double as identification for federal purposes such as boarding commercial aircraft or entering federal buildings.

The 2005 federal law allows states to issue licenses if they are clearly marked as invalid for federal purposes.

Washington and New Mexico still issue driver’s licenses without proof of legal presence, although Washington also has an “enhanced” license that serves as identification for federal purposes and travel to and from Canada.

Utah issues a driving privilege card that must be renewed annually.

Ludwick, speaking for the opposition, said relaxing the requirement for U.S. legal presence would make easier for drug traffickers.

“The most valuable document they can possess is a valid driver’s license,” he said. “It just emboldens criminal activity if you give driver’s licenses to people who should not have them.”

'Needs to get done'

Both sides on the issue say that use of Mexican consular cards is not a permanent solution.

CAUSA’s Sorensen acknowledged Kitzhaber’s efforts, and said Oregon’s recent decision to approve temporary licenses for young participants in a federal delayed-deportation program was a step forward.

Still, the number of Oregon participants potentially eligible for the federal program, known as DACA, is estimated to be far less than the total of undocumented immigrants. Sorensen said the larger question is how all of them prove they can get safely to and from work, school and family errands.

“It’s likely that we will stick with a similar bill” to what was proposed as a residency-only requirement two years ago, Sorensen said. “It’s one of those things that needs to get done.”

Health care

Whether health professionals should undergo training about differences in providing medical treatment to cultural minorities is a topic likely to be revived in the 2013Legislature.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The Oregon Health Equity Alliance consists of six groups: Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, CAUSA Oregon immigrant-rights group, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Oregon Action, Oregon Latino Health Coalition and the Urban League of Portland.
They will promote a version of 2011’s Senate Bill 97, which as passed by the Senate would have required the Oregon Health Authority and 18 regulatory boards to develop standards and shape how health-care providers should be educated about cultural differences.
Although the 2011 bill passed the Senate on a 22-7 vote, it died in the House on a 30-30 split along party lines. Its floor manager then was Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who this session is House speaker. Read more about Immigration issues back in spotlight at Oregon Legislature

State gov race brings attention to immigrant driver's licenses

SEATTLE (AP) - The races for governor and attorney general have brought renewed attention to a proposal that would create a two-tiered driver's license system in Washington to address the issue of driving by immigrants who can't provide proof of legal U.S. residency.

Washington and New Mexico remain the only two states in the country not to require proof of legal U.S. residency when applying for a driver's license.

Under the proposal known as the Utah model, a person who can't prove U.S. residency can get a permit that allows them to drive, but that document is not a valid identification.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna backs the idea, and attorney general candidates Republican Reagan Dunn and Democrat Bob Ferguson speak of it favorably.

"The idea that you should be able to obtain (a key identity document) without proving you're a legal resident of the country is seriously mistaken," McKenna said during a debate in Yakima earlier this month.

McKenna's opponent, Democrat Jay Inslee, has said he prefers keeping Washington's current system in place.

Over the years, this has been a contentious issue in Olympia that pits immigrant advocacy groups against conservatives.

Immigrant groups argue that when illegal immigrants have access to driver's licenses, it creates safer roads and allows them to purchase insurance. Opponents say that failing to ask for proof of U.S. residency invites identity fraud and could end up putting noncitizens in the state's voter rolls.

In Utah, one industry that relies heavily on immigrant labor hasn't seen much change since the law there was passed in 2005.

"Certainly there are labor shortages in our agricultural community, but we didn't feel (the driver's license law) had a significant impact," said Sterling Brown, vice president of public policy at the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. "It has not had an immediate or significant impact on the agriculture community."

According to Utah Driver License Division data, the number of people applying for the Driving Privilege Card has steadily climbed since 2005, from 21,600 to 38,997 in 2011. It peaked at 43,000 in 2008. That same year a state audit found that more than 75 percent of people who had the driving permit also had active car insurance, comparable to the 82 percent rate of drivers with a regular license.

But now immigrant rights groups in Utah are worried about information sharing between the state and the federal government.

In the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers changed the law to mandate the state to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an applicant has a felony on this record. If the individual applying has a misdemeanor warrant outstanding, the state notifies the agency who sought the person's arrest.

Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, says he's concerned that people with minor offenses such as traffic infractions will be caught in the dragnet. He's also worried about the database of people applying for the driving permits being leaked.

Beyond that, the system creates a two-class society, he said.

"They have big red letters saying for 'driving privilege only'," Garza said. "Anyone who shows that card - who may or may not be undocumented in the country - is a second class citizen."

In 2010, the Utah Legislature created another driving permit for noncitizen legal residents, who initially could get the Driving Privilege Card. Still, nearly 160 legal immigrants have the permit.

It's not just immigrant rights groups who oppose the two-tier system. In 2011, a Republican state senator wanted to undue the law because he saw the driving permit as a magnet for illegal immigrants.

In Washington, numerous bills to require proof of U.S. residency have been filed but have never made it the floor of any legislative chamber in recent memory. A bill using the Utah model was introduced in 2011, but did not make it out of committee.

In 2010, the Department of Licensing answered some of the concerns about driver's licenses by narrowing the documents that it now requires to provide proof of Washington residency. It now requires proof of a valid Washington residence address if an applicant doesn't provide a verified Social Security number. The proof documents, such as rental agreements, will be copied and verified by the agency before a permanent license is issued.

"First and foremost, we believe the current system works and we want as much as possible that DOL doesn't become ICE," said Toby Guiven, public policy director at OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy group.

According to Department of Licensing data, fewer out-of-state people who didn't provide a Social Security number have sought to obtain a driver's license in Washington in the last two years, suggesting the department's new restrictions are deterring illegal immigrants from other state from getting a license here.

The department's data shows that in 2011, 9,237 people didn't provide a Social Security number when obtaining a license. In all of 2010, more than 23,000 did not. As of October of 2012, more than 5,000 have.

Guiven argued that creating a new system would add costs to the state budget, new bureaucracies and more wait time at the local DMV office.

In Utah, wait lines did increase shortly after the new law was passed, but subsequently decreased, according to an audit.

One unsolved issue around driver's licenses is the arrival of the federal REAL ID act. It was passed in 2005, but its implementation has been delayed since then. The latest deadline for states to come into compliance is January of next year. But officials expect that deadline to be extended.

Department of Licensing spokeswoman Chris Anthony said the Department of Homeland Security has asked for so far an update package for the state at the end of October, but that's it so far.

She added that state lawmakers passed a measure that prohibited the department from acting on REAL ID until the federal government provided money.

  Read more about State gov race brings attention to immigrant driver's licenses

You can make a difference!

Alert date: 
October 11, 2012
Alert body: 

October 16th is the last day you can register to vote in Oregon.  Please make certain you are registered if you have moved, changed your name or aren't certain you are registered.

There are several close races OFIR is watching and your help is needed to make the difference.

Visit oregonvotes.gov for more information.  Your vote is your greatest weapon...use it!

Report cites I-5 as major drug corridor

Illegal drugs continue to be a major problem for the state of Oregon — the manufacture of them, the use of them, the illicit sale of them and even their transportation, according to a report from the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Between January 2008 and the end of March 2012, authorities traced nearly $10 million in drug money seizures back to Oregon.

The connection to the state was determined through certain conditions: either the vehicle used for drug transportation or the driver’s license was registered to an Oregon address.

According to the HIDTA report, 464 incidents of drug or cash seizures could be traced back to Oregon. The most common states in which said incidents occurred were California, Nebraska and Kansas.

However, when considering the pounds of marijuana heading east, four states stand out: South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.

The reason for Oregon’s high amount of seizures, authorities said, is the state’s location on a prime drug route — Interstate 5.

“Oregon sits on one of a number of major drug corridors,” said Chris Gibson, director of the Oregon HIDTA. “Drugs coming from Mexico and drug trafficking organizations are either being dropped here or distributed with portions being dropped here.”

I-5 connects Canada, Mexico and the states in between in a single vein of traffic, making it an ideal route for drug traffickers. In addition, many of Oregon’s other highways run east to other outlying states. The report cited Highways 97 and 395 as major examples.

These connecting highways, in addition to a drug demand in Oregon, make the state appealing for drug traffickers, Gibson said.

“I think Oregon has its own demand problem,” he said. “We just happen to have that distinction of sitting on I-5, which is the pipeline from Mexico both ways. It’s natural for drugs to make it up this way and then head east, but a lot of it is being left behind in the state.”

The two most frequently trafficked drugs noted by HIDTA are marijuana and controlled prescription drugs. Between the two, more than 60,000 incidents of seizures were connected to Oregon during a four-year period.

Gibson said it’s important to note that although it appears the connections point to the drugs being physically located in Oregon at some point, that’s not necessarily true.

“For instance, you could have a person from Salem who, for whatever reason, grabs a load in Idaho and takes it East,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily connect the drugs that were being in Oregon at that point, I would say, with the exception primarily of marijuana.”

Southern Oregon continues to house a large amount of domestically-grown marijuana, Gibson said. More seizures of marijuana trafficking occurred on I-5 headed north than in any other direction or any other drug, according to the report.

Officials in Salem have a particular concern about marijuana because the drug frequently serves as a gateway into harder drugs, such as heroin, according to Lt. Dave Okada, spokesman for the Salem Police.

“A lot of it is marijuana leading to abuse of prescription drugs that leads to the heroin,” he said. “I don’t know if that has a correlation to the proximity of I-5, but our street crimes team is telling me that the vast majority of people they deal with on addiction issues say they started with marijuana.”

An Oregon State Police traffic stop north of Lakeview in 2011 led to the discovery of 50 pounds of marijuana. / Photo courtesy of Oregon State Police Read more about Report cites I-5 as major drug corridor

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