Since 2007, when then Governor Ted Kulongoski signed an Executive Order to require proof of lawful presence as a condition of obtaining a driver license, thousands of people in Oregon have been faced with the terrible choice between not driving to school, work, and medical appointments, or driving unlicensed with an ever-present fear of being pulled over. With the harmful and ongoing entanglement between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement, a routine traffic stop could lead to deportation proceedings, making this choice for unlicensed Oregonians even more high-stakes.

Governor John Kitzhaber convened a workgroup through the Oregon DMV to develop a legislative proposal for this session that would restore access to driver licenses that was taken away in 2007. We advocated strongly that the proposal should outline a “one-tier” system for licenses, meaning that every applicant, regardless of immigration status, would receive the same license if he or she met all other criteria (passed the road test, etc.).

Safe driving has nothing to do with immigration status and we believe it is long past time that the two be de-linked. The complicated issues surrounding immigration reform should be addressed at the federal level, not through restricting access to driver licenses. While we were not successful in achieving a “one-tier” solution, we supported SB 833 because we recognize that the status quo was harmful for road safety and public safety, and because the immigrant community in Oregon needed relief from this very desperate and untenable situation.

The “two-tier” system outlined in SB 833 provides for applicants who are otherwise eligible for a license but cannot prove lawful presence in the country to obtain a short-term license for lawful driving, but the license cannot be used for federal ID purposes such as entering a federal building or boarding an airplane. Though the bill did not take the exact form we hoped it would, it is an important victory nonetheless. The bill provides more Oregon residents with access to the necessities of daily life and helps to improve public safety and security, ensuring that drivers on our roads are competent and insured.

We joined a long list of coalition partners in support of SB 833, including business and faith leaders, law enforcement representatives, and civil rights advocates.

Vote: 20-7-3 Senate
38-20-2 House