No driver’s licenses for people here illegally

Letter date: 
Sunday, August 12, 2012
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Gov. John Kitzhaber wants changes in Oregon’s driver’s license laws to enable more “people to come out of the shadows and contribute to our state’s economic recovery."

A work group is meeting to come up with a proposal that Kitzhaber hopes public safety officials will support.

For now, the work group is behind closed doors, as Salem’s Statesman Journal reported. But the governor’s statements suggest the group is considering allowing people to get a form of an Oregon driver’s license without being able to prove they have a right to be here.

Bad idea. That is not to say there are no problems.

“Too many Oregonians are traveling from home to work, or school, or church, in risk of violating the law," Kitzhaber wrote in a May letter to an immigration rally. “They are forced to choose between this risk and providing for their families."

Of course, another choice they made —unless they are too young — is to be in Oregon illegally. There are other issues that can clearly be bad for Oregonians.

No driver’s license means no insurance. No driver’s license likely means less familiarity with the rules of the road. No driver’s license also can make it much more difficult for law enforcement to swiftly determine a person’s identity.

The federal government cracked down on the identification needed to get on a plane or visit a federal office building after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission report spelled out why.

“For terrorists, travel documents are weapons," the report said. “All but one of the hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities."

Federal law does allow states to issue other IDs that are clearly marked as not legal for use for federal purposes. Washington and New Mexico allow a form of driver’s licenses without proof of legal presence. Utah has driving privilege cards.

That doesn’t mean Oregon also needs to join in and hand out benefits to those in the state illegally.

The root problem is the nation’s failure to support comprehensive immigration reform. Remember in 2007 when that pair of unlikely allies — President Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy — became allies on immigration reform? Their proposal had the right components. Strict enforcement of laws against hiring illegals, a “guest worker" program and a program by which people who are living in the United States could become legal.

But failure of Congress to enact immigration reform is no excuse for Oregon to create loopholes for people breaking the law.

We are not under a delusion that strict driver’s license requirements make many illegal aliens pack up and leave. It’s also not a certainty that Oregon becomes safer by approving licenses for people who are here illegally.