Immigration activists seek the right to drive legally

Article author: 
Peter Wong
Article publisher: 
Statesman Journal
Article date: 
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

Sindy Avila came to the United States from Mexico when she was 2.

Kassandra Marquez was born in the United States, but just a few months after her parents arrived from Mexico.

What drew them and about 100 others to a rally Tuesday at the Capitol was the issue of reinstating Oregon driver’s licenses for immigrants who lack proof of legal presence in the United States.

Oregon lawmakers are expected to consider legislation soon to change the 2008 law requiring such proof to receive licenses and identification cards.

“We stand together in solidarity with our parents and valued members of our community to let our politicians know that we need driver’s licenses,” Avila said at the rally. “They are a necessity for people to go to work, to provide food for their families and to contribute to our community.”

Marquez’s mother was five months pregnant with her when her parents crossed the border.

“My father goes to work daily, living in fear of getting detained by the police,” she said. “This affects me and my family, because he is our only provider for our household. It is my fear that one day, while he is driving to or from work, I will not be able to see him again.”

Several others told their stories, mostly in Spanish, but withheld their last names.

The rally was organized by Oregon Dream Activists, which sponsored a similar rally Oct. 30 after several students walked from Portland to Salem over four days to call attention to their cause.

At the Oct. 30 rally, Gov. John Kitzhaber was the target of advocates who thought he could reverse the 2008 law via an executive order. Kitzhaber has since announced his support of changing the law, and supporters at Tuesday’s rally hid his name from a banner proclaiming “Restore Our Licenses Now.”

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The same federal law also allows states to issue licenses that are “clearly marked” as invalid for federal purposes.

Washington and New Mexico are the only states with such licenses not requiring proof of legal presence, although Washington also issues an “enhanced” license that can be used for travel to and from Canada, as well as federal purposes. Residents of other states must obtain U.S. passports for Canadian travel.

Utah issues driving privilege cards that must be renewed annually.

Kitzhaber announced 11 months ago, in a message delivered at a May Day rally, that a task force would try to come up with solutions. He has not said what form the legislation may take.

“This bill is important for a significant segment of our economy,” he said at a news conference on Feb. 11.

“We want a driver’s license that is not discriminatory,” said Marco Mejia of Jobs with Justice, a group based in Portland, during the rally.

Immigrant-rights groups say that many drivers without immigration documents cannot obtain or renew their licenses, forcing them to use public transportation or forgo licensed driving.

But Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which has been critical of federal immigration policy, has defended the 2008 law as a safeguard against the abuse of licenses.

Mira Conklin, who spoke for the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, said national borders are drawn by humans, not God.

“It’s a line that tries to tell us that a person born on one side of that line has more value than a person born on the other side — and we know that’s not true,” she said. “We know we all have value. Let’s work together to change the law.”

Peter Parks, a retired longshoreman and a spokesman for Jobs with Justice, said state legislation for driver’s licenses is only a step toward federal legislation for comprehensive immigration-law changes. “We have to keep moving,” he said.

Marco Mejia addresses those attending the Oregon Dream Activists rally on the Capitol steps, on Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013, in support of restoring driver's licenses without having to show proof of legal presence in the United States.

What’s next

A bill is expected to be introduced soon that would allow issuance of Oregon driver’s licenses and identification cards without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States. A Senate committee heard but did not advance similar legislation in 2011.

House Bill 3226, which would allow issuance of licenses and cards to those who have been granted deferred status by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is pending in the House Rules Committee. Oregon officials already have determined that limited-term licenses can be issued to participants in the Deferred Action-Childhood Arrivals program authorized by President Barack Obama last year