Immigrant driver's licenses vote prompted

Gosia Wozniacka and Steven Dubois / The Associated Press /

Published Oct 19, 2013 at 05:00AM

PORTLAND — Oregonians are headed for a statewide vote on a new law allowing immigrants who can’t prove legal United States citizenship to obtain driver’s licenses.

Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office said on Friday that opponents of the law submitted about 71,000 signatures, and the Elections Division has determined that 58,291 of those signatures were valid.

That’s enough to put a referendum before voters in November 2014. And as a result, the law won’t take effect as scheduled this coming January.

If passed, the law would grant four-year restricted licenses that can be used to drive but not to vote, board a plane, obtain government benefits or buy a firearm. The licenses would be marked “Driver’s Card,” to distinguish them from a standard Oregon license.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved the bill with bipartisan support, and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed it before a throng of cheering supporters.

The law was aimed mainly at the tens of thousands of immigrants living in Oregon who lack legal status. But others also could apply, including some elderly, the homeless and veterans who lack proper documents to get a regular license.

All applicants must pass a driver’s test and provide proof of Oregon residency.

Referendum sponsors — Rep. Kim Thatcher, of Keizer, Rep. Sal Esquivel, of Medford, and Salem-based anti-immigrant group Oregonians for Immigration Reform — said the law rewards illegal actions and might encourage more people without legal documents to come to Oregon.

“I think this is just one way in which the state is sanctioning or enabling the breaking of federal law,” Thatcher said.

But supporters, including Latino groups, business leaders and law enforcement, claim the law would reduce the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers in the state. They vow to mount a campaign to fight the referendum.

“It’s a public safety issue,” said Ron Louie, retired Hillsboro chief of police and spokesman for the coalition supporting the law.

Thirteen states, including Oregon, now have laws that allow immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, to obtain a driver’s license or driving privilege card, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.