Richard F. LaMountain
Last May Day, Gov. John Kitzhaber informed demonstrators at the state Capitol he’d work to change Oregon law and restore driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. When the Legislature convenes in early February, he and his allies will seek to deliver.
Lawmakers should have no part of it. If they do, our state will become a hub for identity fraud, a magnet for illegal immigrants competing for work with Oregon’s unemployed, and a virtually unimpeded conduit for Mexican drugs.
Let’s review some recent history.
Before 2008, Oregon issued licenses to applicants who had neither verifiable Social Security numbers nor passports. But early that year, the Legislature and then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski enacted a law (Senate Bill 1080) that required each applicant to prove legal U.S. presence.
What drove their decision? “It appears,” wrote Kulongoski, “that criminal organizations both inside and outside Oregon are using Oregon’s permissive standards in order to assist persons to illegally obtain driver licenses and identification cards” and other “documents for which they are not eligible either in this state or in the state in which they actually reside.”
An example: Early in the last decade, a ring in Hillsboro helped thousands of illegal immigrants, many from other states, to fraudulently obtain Oregon licenses. Some of its operatives, The Oregonian reported, “admitting selling envelopes with fake Portland-area addresses as proof of Oregon residency or falsifying driver’s test applications for illegal immigrants.”
If lawmakers negate Oregon’s legal-presence requirement for licenses, such enterprises likely will flourish here again. And what can illegal immigrants do with the licenses these enterprises would help them get?
Plenty. For illegal immigrants seeking jobs, notes the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation, licenses “are accepted as proof of identity on the I-9 form employers are required to complete to establish that new employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.” With licenses, then, illegal immigrants could better compete, however fraudulently, for the jobs federal law reserves for U.S. citizens and legal residents — of whom some 160,000 remain unemployed in Oregon.
A license can serve as a “breeder document” for other wrongdoing as well. “Once in possession of a driver’s license,” notes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “a criminal is well on his way to using the false identity to facilitate a variety of crimes, from money laundering to check fraud.” Cases of this kind involving illegal immigrants have occurred recently in, among other states, Utah, Tennessee and Arkansas.
And consider drugs. “Mexican criminal groups are the primary drug traffickers who utilize the state’s highway system to transport and distribute large wholesale quantities of illicit drugs,” maintained the Oregon Department of Justice in a recent report. Illegal immigrants comprise a large percentage of the traffickers’ retail operatives. And if, in the future, “a state trooper stops someone transporting illicit drugs and the driver presents a driver’s license issued by the state,” notes Jim Ludwick, communications director of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, “the trooper may lack probable cause to search the car for contraband.” Illegal immigrants’ access to licenses, then, would enable traffickers to ply their trade — and addict our youth — more easily.
In November, the Oregon corrections system contained 1,240 foreign nationals being held for transfer to federal immigration authorities. Their yearly cost: some $38 million. If illegal immigrants regained access to Oregon licenses, more of them, many with criminal intent, would be drawn to our state. Some of these, doubtless, would be apprehended and imprisoned. This would drive the number of foreign inmates — and their cost to Oregon taxpayers — even higher.
Oregonians should tell their legislators: In this year’s session, reject Kitzhaber’s effort to restore driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.