Oregon Driver's License Law (SB 1080) (2008)

In December 2007, by Executive Order, the Governor greatly restricted who would be eligible for Oregon driver licenses and state-issued ID cards by requiring proof of lawful presence in the country as well as proof of identity.  Lead by Sen. Rick Metsger (D-Welches), the Oregon legislature went even further in creating significant hurdles for Oregonians, including citizens, to obtain either a driver license or ID card.

Under the previous law, DMV provided some flexibility in the type of documents required to obtain a driver license.  Although individuals who had a Social Security number (SSN) were required to provide it (to comply with the federal so-called “dead-beat dad” law), DMV did not actually verify the SSN and those who did not have one were still allowed to obtain a license as long as they signed a sworn statement.

Now, as a result of the Governor’s Executive Order and SB 1080, thousands in Oregon will be more likely to drive without a license or automobile insurance.  As retired Hillsboro Chief of Police Ron Louie stated: “Mandating proof of citizenship before issuing a driver’s license will have the unintended consequence of increasing unlicensed and uninsured drivers. More and more people will be on Oregon roadways without any benefit of a skills driving test.  People who will be required to drive in connection with their livelihood, in the course of good parenting or attending worship may become involved in accidents.”

Along with the Governor’s actions in December, this legislation was fueled by the current anti-immigration fervor.  In almost every era, immigrants have been targeted with unfair treatment.  Their status as “other” based on race, religion or nationality has made them fair game for harsh and over-reaching government actions.  This remains true today and it was the driving force behind this legislation.  The majority, if not the only, witnesses who came to testify in support of SB 1080 were members or supporters of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which among other arguments, identifies as part of the “special problems created by illegal immigrants” the “need for population control since most illegals (sic) have higher fertility rates than our native populations.”

Under that backdrop the 2008 legislature overwhelmingly passed SB 1080.  And let us make no mistake, by denying driver licenses to those who cannot establish that they are lawfully present in our country, we are not making Oregon roads safer and we certainly are not addressing the policy debate around federal immigration issues.  Instead, Oregon will be penalizing many families who are contributing to the workforce, paying taxes and are part of the basic fabric of our society. Also caught in the political crossfire are immigrant children who have known no other home but this country, as well as children of immigrants born in Oregon who are U.S. citizens.

Despite the anti-immigrant focus of this legislation, the new law actually will affect every single Oregonian, citizen and non-citizen alike.  As a result, many citizens will be unable to obtain either a driver license or identification card. While we tried to raise these concerns before the legislature, we were given two minutes to testify after which the Senate Transportation Committee completely ignored our concerns.

Everyone attempting to obtain a new, replacement or renewal license will not only be required to provide a SSN, but also to present a document that includes the SSN. DMV will verify SSNs with the Social Security Administration database.  This database is notoriously rife with errors, including name and birth date discrepancies.  A recent review of the SSA’s pilot verification program found an error rate of 9.8 percent for naturalized U.S. citizens.

Even if you’re in the SSA database, if there is any discrepancy with your name or birth date, you will not be able to obtain a license or renewal.  Instead, DMV likely will issue a temporary card (with no photograph) and require you to resolve the discrepancies with the SSA.  For some, it may be an easy resolution; for others, there may be no way to provide the required documents to the SSA to resolve the problem.  If there is no resolution, DMV will not issue a driver license. 

We raised another concern that also was ignored: Federal buildings require a person to present photo identification to enter the building, so those who have to go to the SSA and who do not have current photo identification may not be able to enter the building, putting them in a Catch-22.

Non-citizens will need to produce specific federal immigration documents.  That requirement (already in place under the Governor’s Executive Order) has already created problems.  DMV has turned people away who had legal federal immigration documents but those documents were either not on the DMV approved list or did not look as DMV expected.  This is one of the concerns we have had; namely that state agencies do not have the expertise to recognize the many different lawful federal immigration documents available. For example, in April, the ACLU of Oregon agreed to assist a non-US citizen who can legally work in this country but was wrongly dismissed from her job because her green card appeared to have expired.  She has begun the naturalization process and as a result, was told by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) that she does not need to renew her green card.  But a local government in Oregon received different information from ICE and terminated her. 

In addition to SSN verification, one will have to produce either a certified birth certificate or a U.S. passport (current or no more than 5 years expired) to prove lawful presence in this country and U.S. citizenship.  (There are other documents for U.S. citizens born abroad, naturalized citizens, permanent residents or members of federally recognized tribes, but for most it will be birth certificate or passport.)  If one’s name has changed since the issuance of these documents, particularly since issuance of a birth certificate, legal documents reflecting those name changes must also be produced (in certified form).  This will most affect women who have had name changes from marriage or divorce as well as anyone who has been adopted or gone through any other legal name change.

For many, it may be easy to produce a certified birth certificate, especially those born in this state who already have a certified copy or have the time and financial resources to track down and obtain a new certified copy.  But for many, this will be an insurmountable obstacle, particularly those born out of state.  It may take significant time to locate and contact the right out-of-state agency that issued the birth certificate and significant cost to actually get a certified copy. (Again, if the state requires picture identification, a person may be in yet another Catch-22 with no photo identification.)  Others have no certified birth certificate they were never issued one (frequently the case for those born at home) or the original records have been destroyed.  We need only think of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina or other natural disasters that have destroyed buildings and towns to realize that not everyone can produce a certified birth certificate (or the other required certified documents).  There is no recourse if that document does not exist.  These people will not be issued an Oregon driver license or identification card unless they already have a U.S. passport.

In 2006, a local non-profit required to obtain proof of citizenship to provide medical services attempted to assist its clients in obtaining certified birth certificates.  The project was a failure.  Many out-of-state requests were still pending months later.  For those who were adopted or grew up in foster care, they were not able to track down the right information to obtain a certified birth certificate (such as knowing where they were born or their mother’s name). 
The affected populations are the most vulnerable among us: those who are low-income or poor, who have mental health issues, are struggling with homelessness, victims of domestic violence, or other factors that make accessing the necessary documents impossible.  For many, having identification is necessary to obtain critical services, including access to homeless shelters or re-establishing themselves in housing or a job.

This law also adversely affects the ability to replace lost or stolen driver licenses. Previously, a lost or stolen license could be replaced by relying, in part, on one’s DMV photograph already in the system.  Under the new law, DMV will no longer use a current DMV photograph to help establish identity for a replacement card.  Instead, Oregonians will have to produce the original or certified birth certificate or passport and supporting documents all over again. 

Of particularly irony is that in 2005 the Oregon legislature passed SB 640 which requires DMV to use biometric facial recognition software to our DMV photographs.  That bill was touted as providing increased security to our DMV photograph, protecting against identity theft.  Despite this purported increased security, the legislature removed language from the law allowing use of a DMV photograph as proof of identity to replace a lost of stolen license.

Homeless and domestic violence advocates joined ACLU in raising this concern to the Oregon legislature.  And although individual legislators expressed sympathy about this, it appeared everyone’s hands were tied and no changes were made to make this law less damaging on vulnerable and low-income Oregonians.

While we will try to convince the Oregon Transportation Commission to address some of these concerns by rulemaking, there is nothing we can do to assist those who will fall through the cracks. Despite pressure, 22 Oregon legislators joined us in opposing SB 1080.  As one legislator said when thanked for his vote in opposition: “It was an easy vote I was doing the right thing.” It’s only disappointing that so few joined him to do the right thing.

SB 1080 passed the Senate (23-7) and the House (45-15).