Oregonians should not be required to prove they are U.S. citizens or legal residents to drive a car.
That’s the premise behind a bill filed in Salem this week by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. If passed opens the door for non-citizens to obtain legal Oregon driver’s licenses, learner’s permits or general identification cards. It wouldn’t apply to commercial driver’s licenses.
The Equal Access to Roads Act would amend state law to allow drivers to submit a statement saying they have “not been assigned a Social Security number” instead of producing documents proving U.S. citizenship or legal residency. Qualified applicants would still have to pass a driver’s test and show they live in Oregon. The bill would not apply to learner’s permits or commercial driver’s licenses.
The bill comes as Oregon in July 2020 will begin issuing driver’s licenses that comply with the 2005 REAL ID Act, which requires states to verify citizenship and add other security features for state licenses. Either a federally recognized form of identification like a passport or Real ID card will be required for any passenger to board domestic flights starting in October 2020.
Proponents say the bill is a logical move that will benefit all Oregonians who are either unwilling or unable to comply with those federal requirements, not just those undocumented workers who may rely on cars to get work, school or elsewhere around the state.
Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, one of HB 2015’s five chief-sponsors, said it makes sense to give all Oregonians an option other than paying more money for a Real ID starting next year.
“Many people are impacted by these strict requirements,” Hernandez said, “including the elderly, domestic violence survivors and immigrants.”
He said that having access to driver’s licenses without producing additional paperwork eliminates a roadblock to getting an essential piece of identification.
If approved, the bill would be effective January 2021. Oregon would still have two licenses if the bill dies in Salem – a Real ID compliant one and a non-Real ID card. The bill removes the legal residency requirements for the non-Real ID license while adding additional civil protections so driver’s licenses holders can’t be discriminated against for not having a Real ID.
Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement in support of the bill. “As a mixed urban and rural state, many Oregonians depend on the ability to drive to support their families and go to school, the doctor, and the grocery store,” Brown said. “Increasing access to driver’s licenses means more Oregonians will safely access their jobs, education, and the services they rely on.“
The bill comes more than a decade after Oregon last issued eight-year driver’s licenses to residents without requiring they produce documentation proving they are citizens or legal residents.
The last of those licenses expired in 2016 and the state in 2017 decided to approve a plan to finally comply with Real ID. Transportation officials, while briefing state lawmakers last week, said Oregon would likely be the last state in the country to comply with Real ID.
The intervening decade produced a separate bill that would’ve granted undocumented residents four-year drivers’ cards. That law produced a referendum in 2014 and Oregonians overwhelming voted to overturn that law, known as SB833.
This bill is landing amid nationwide uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration’s immigration policies and what immigrant’s rights advocates say has been an unnerving increase in deportations and raids on communities under his leadership.
Ivan Hernandez, the communications manager for the immigrant’s rights group CAUSA of Oregon, said immigrants face “an impossible position” in Oregon right now.
“They either choose to drive without a license and risk arrest or deportation,” he said, “or they choose not to drive at all.”
Regardless of the complexity of the federal immigration debate, he said, the driver’s license issue should resonate with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We don’t think that anybody should have their families separated or basically be deported over a traffic stop,” he said.
If Oregon moves forward with a bill, it wouldn’t be the first state to do so.
Washington and California both caved out separate requirements for driver’s licenses, two of at least a dozen states to create licenses that don’t comply with the federal law according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Hernandez, the Portland lawmaker, expects the bill to have bipartisan support. It already has 40 sponsors, including two Republicans, and some interest groups are already lining up behind it.
He said the bill would work despite Oregon’s motor voter bill, where unregistered voters can be automatically signed up to vote. “Currently, the DMV is able to administer motor voter with those not eligible to vote,” Hernandez said on Twitter. “Legal residents who are not citizens don’t get enrolled through motor voter. That same system will apply here. We will be releasing an official memo from DMV soon.”
“The driver’s license should be about driving,” said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
Stone said HB2015 is a “cleaner version” of the bill signed into law in 2013 that created a separate driver’s card for undocumented residents. Stone said that if employers asked prospective workers today if they have a valid driver’s license and they answer no, it’s grounds for termination.
“Then they know that they are not authorized to work in the United States,” he said, citing the federal law.
Stone, whose group represents more than 700 nurseries and landscapers across the state, said he hopes the bill gains traction.
“This has real implications for the rural economy,” he said. “I’m hoping for a bicameral bipartisan bill that can get support.”
— Andrew Theen