When we travel, we want to believe all drivers are licensed, that they passed an exam on the rules of the road and a driving test. But in Oregon some did not; they are excluded because they lack the documents required by the DMV to obtain a license. This makes it difficult to buy insurance and, unnecessarily, makes our roads less safe for everyone.
When Oregon passed the Real ID Act in 2017, it created an enhanced license to comply with a federal mandate. In October 2020, people who want to board a plane or visit a secure federal building must show a Real ID license or identification card, or a valid passport. Oregon will begin issuing this license in mid-2020. To be eligible for a Real ID license, an applicant must present a Social Security card and proof of citizenship or legal presence.
But many Oregonians who are older, low-income, homeless, born in a different state, fleeing domestic violence or awaiting a path to legal status or citizenship, may not have the documents to qualify for that license. A bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 2015, the Equal Access to Roads Act, would make the standard Class C driver’s license available to any Oregonian who passes the driving tests and presents identification and proof of Oregon residency.
For many immigrants, in particular, this is critical. In 2008, Oregon made driver’s licenses unobtainable for immigrants and others without the required documents. Once their licenses expired, they had to rely on licensed friends and relatives to get around or risk driving without a license. Driving is essential to travel to work in rural areas without public transit. Because of this, driving is not a privilege, it is a right. And denying people this right has unintended consequences.
A local immigrant student with a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) permit recently shared at a forum in Bend that she was offered scholarships to attend Portland State University. But she chose to stay in Bend to be available to drive her parents around since they cannot get a driver’s license.
It might not seem logical to some people to allow immigrants without permission to be in the U.S. to have a driver’s license. However, what is not logical is our federal government refusing to reform our policies to allow immigrants to come here lawfully to fill our workforce needs. We have over 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. because Congress lacks the will to change our laws to permit labor supply to keep up with demand. With a thriving economy and an aging workforce, our state needs immigrants because our citizenry’s ability or desire to have children isn’t keeping up.
According to the Oregon Employment Department, businesses in the East Cascades region report 3,708 unfilled positions. They cannot find people to hire. We have a labor shortage, yet federal policy is restricting access to immigrants to fill these jobs in a legal manner.
Denying driver’s licenses to Oregon residents does not slow immigration. Oregonians can’t fix our immigration system, but we can fix the bad state policy decision in 2008 that restricted access to licenses, making our roads less safe.
John Hummel, Deschutes County district attorney, recently stated, “If we pass this law (HB 2015), we’ll be safer.”
Washington and California issue driver’s licenses to qualified immigrants and have fewer drivers who haven’t met the state driving standards, Hummel added.
Over 80,000 immigrants and citizens are expected to step up to apply for the standard license and pay fees that will expand the state highway fund and make roads safer for everyone.
The Latino Community Association urges passage of HB 2015 and asks our neighbors and friends to tell your elected representatives to vote “yes” for safer roads.
— Denise Holley is the research and communications assistant for the Latino Community Association in Central Oregon.