Petition effort may stall immigrant driving law

Article subtitle: 
Non-legal resident cards could wind up before voters in 2014
Article author: 
Damian Mann
Article publisher: 
Mail Tribune
Article date: 
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

State Rep. Sal Esquivel said he expects voters will get a chance to determine if a new law should allow illegal immigrants to have driver's licenses.

Esquivel, a member of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, co-sponsored a referendum for the November 2014 ballot that seeks to overturn a law authorizing driver-privilege cards for non-legal residents.

"I think the people of Oregon should weigh in on it because they will be driving around with those people," said Esquivel, R-Medford.

Critics of the new law, which was set to go into effect in January, submitted 71,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office this week in hopes of putting the issue to a vote in November of 2014.

Esquivel disputed the argument that the law will make the highways safer because illegal immigrants will follow through on the requirement to get auto insurance along with a driver's license.

"You break the law to come here," he said. "Why do you think they would follow the law and get insurance?"

The Secretary of State's Election Office will scrutinize the petitions submitted by the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform and the paid private firm Signature Gathering Company of Oregon.

The OFIR group was required to submit 58,142 valid signatures to qualify its referendum for the November 2014 ballot. Group members say voters should have the final say on whether the state issues driver's cards to people who cannot produce documents proving they are U.S. citizens.

If the petitioners succeed in getting on the November 2014 ballot, the law would not take effect in January.

Monitors from both OFIR and immigrants' rights groups such as CAUSA Oregon will be on hand to witness the elections staff as they review the signatures.

Supporters of the driver's privilege law say they don't see the law as an immigration issue, but believe it makes the roads safer for all Oregonians.

Ron Louis, a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and retired chief of police in Hillsboro, told the Salem Statesman-Journal that he views the cards as a matter of public safety and points to their success in other states such as Maryland, New Mexico, Utah and Washington as evidence.

"It just allows anyone without the typical documentation to drive and get insurance. And it puts them through a testing process that hopefully makes them safer driver," Louis said. "It ensures that they minimally understand rules and road signs, and I'd much rather have every driver alongside me have this education."

But others say the decision to grant driver's cards to individuals is closely related to immigration concerns.

Lake Oswego resident Colleen Hill said in the same Statesman-Journal story that it was "very disturbing that the governor was validating illegal behavior" and said the decision would give illegal immigrants "documentation to citizenship."

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 833, creating the driver's card option, into law in May.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or