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Biking and walking groups endorse ‘driver cards’ for undocumented immigrants

Posted by on October 1st, 2014 at 9:08 am

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A student driver in Washington, where citizenship status
isn’t required for state driving tests.
(Photo: Joint Base Lewis McChord)

Nonprofits that support road safety are backing a November ballot issue that would allow people who came to Oregon illegally to once again take driving tests and buy car insurance.

A public “yes” vote on Measure 88 would let undocumented Oregon residents get “driver’s cards” that let them drive legally, essentially restoring the system that was in place before 2007.

It’s not clear how many Oregon residents are now driving despite not having legal immigration status or licenses, but the number is almost certainly in the many thousands.

“People, when given the option to do the right thing, they will do it… they want to drive legally and safely.”
— Reyna Lopez, Causa

“This will promote safety on the road for everyone, regardless of how they choose to get around,” wrote Gerik Kransky, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance‘s advocacy director, in an email.

Measure 88 would “make sure that every single person who’s operating an automobile on our streets has had an opportunity to take a test at the DMV,” said Aaron Brown, president of Oregon Walks.

Kransky said in a phone call last week that the BTA’s board had agreed to endorse the ballot measure, joining Oregon Walks and the public transit advocates OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon in doing so.

“To think that somebody who’s illegally here is all of a sudden going to get religion and start obeying laws when they get a driver’s license is sort of ridiculous. They think they’re above the law.”
— Jim Ludwick, Oregonians for Immigration Reform

In every U.S. state, it’s a criminal offense to drive without both a license and basic car insurance. But insurers don’t typically sell policies to people who can’t prove that they’ve passed a driving test — and under current law, Oregon doesn’t conduct driving tests on people who lack a legal immigration status.

Reyna Lopez, the director of civic engagement for Latino immigrants’ advocacy group Causa, said that about 80,000 undocumented Oregon residents held driver’s licenses in 2007, when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski used an executive order to block the state from issuing licenses to anyone without a legal status.

Many of those 80,000 people have continued driving using their old licenses, but one by one they’ve been expiring.

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Lopez said that in her work, “from Hermiston, Oregon, to Medford, Oregon, the first thing that families ask me is what is happening with the license.”

“People, when given the option to do the right thing, they will do it,” Lopez went on. “Everywhere we’ve gone, people have said they want the option to do the driver card. They want to drive legally and safely.”

Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform and an opponent of illegal immigration and Measure 88, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe people who crossed a border illegally want to drive legally.

“To think that somebody who’s illegally here is all of a sudden going to get religion and start obeying laws when they get a driver’s license is sort of ridiculous,” Ludwick said. “They think they’re above the law. … I don’t pick and choose which laws to obey. Why do illegal aliens get to?”

Ludwick also said a car license is not always required to purchase car insurance. However, he said he wasn’t sure which companies are willing to insure unlicensed drivers.

If Measure 88 passes, undocumented residents who can prove they’ve lived in Oregon for at least one year would be able to get a “driver’s card” in the same way any new resident or driver would: by passing a written test if they have a valid license in another U.S. state, or by passing both written test and a behind-the-wheel test if they don’t have a valid license.

Washington and California are both among the U.S. states that allow undocumented immigrants to be legal drivers. Some people who work in the Portland area get licenses in Clark County in order to have one on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

Brown, who serves as the volunteer president of the Oregon Walks board and is also actively working on the Measure 88 campaign in his day job as organizing coordinator for the Bus Project, said he sees support for Measure 88 as a chance to make Portland transportation activism less “astonishingly monocrhomatic.”

“This isn’t just about sharrows and bikes and a very narrow understanding of how transportation matters,” Brown said. “This is about getting to work on time, getting kids to school, getting family members to the doctor.”

You can read more about the case for and against Measure 88 at Vote Yes on 88 and Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

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31 Comments
  • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 9:29 am

    “he doesn’t believe people who crossed a border illegally want to drive legally.”
    That’s the best he can do?
    Does Ludwick obey every single law on the books? Has he ever exceeded 55 (or 65)mph? Rolled through a stop sign? Inhaled? Fudged just a little on his taxes?

    Many (most?) laws are eventually overturned because they were written by people who are fallible, have biases, want to provide advantages to their peers, and worse.

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    • Pete October 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Yeah, those damned scofflaws, running stop signs and borders and stuff…

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    • Stretchy October 1, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Sadly, most laws are not eventually overturned.

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    • Gary October 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      I’d argue people who are here illegally are probably MOST wanting to drive legally. I try hard to avoid a ticket because that’d be inconvenient, but I’d survive and thus take some calculated risks from time to time. If driving legally means avoiding a criminal charge and probable deportation, yeah, I’d probably be much more careful.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    All drivers having a license AND insurance is an important protection for vulnerable road users in Cascadia. Bicycle riding (and walking) in rural areas leaves many exposed to uninsured and unlicensed drivers. Rural mobility often is only by private car or labor transport…

    I would recommend that in the future there be discussion of potential policies for implementing Measure 88 (if passed) that there be:
    1) shorter time periods between renewals (annual?);
    2) a documented link between the license being current AND active insurance (insurance companies required to notify DMV of lack of renewal/ policy start etc.); and
    3) minimum insurance levels for this class of license to protect vulnerable roadway users be set to a higher level (increased risk of leaving the scene / risk of flight) or that a separate fund be set up through a fee on this class of licenses for vulnerable roadways users if an uninsured alien as driver has caused the collision, etc.

    There should also be some requirement of Oregon employers of H-2a visa holders to link licenses and car insurance too.

    Ok, feel free to talk amongst yourselves…

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  • F.W. de Klerk October 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I fail to see how this passing makes streets safer. And how will you convince people who have been successfully dodging paying for insurance to all of a sudden start coughing up money for premiums?

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    • Gary October 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      True. The same way that licensing plumbers and electricians to ensure they are knowledgeable of industry codes has probably never prevented a building from exploding or burning down.

      As for convincing them: “hey, instead of getting jailed and likely deported, losing your livelihood and ability to support your family, for a minor traffic violation, you can spend a few hundred bucks a year for insurance.” It really sells itself.

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  • Aaron October 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for the write-up, Michael!

    To win this measure, we’re going to need a lot of support, and we’re going to need a lot of folks spreading the word-of-mouth about why this sensible, progressive piece of immigration rights’ is the right thing to do for our communities, neighborhoods, and streets.

    There are activities to help us win this measure every weekend, but I want to invite bikeportland readers to come to the Bus Project/Causa/Oregon Walks canvass the weekend of October 18. A couple weekends of door knocking and talking to neighbors might make the difference for this bill, which will make our streets safer and will be an important way to show support for transportation rights for all Oregonians.

    Hope to see you on October 18, if not sooner!
    https://www.facebook.com/events/1488833781371126/?notif_t=plan_user_joined

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    • F.W. de Klerk October 2, 2014 at 7:45 am

      How again will this make streets safer?

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  • Jagur October 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I refuse to grant special driving priviliges to people who are not even here legaly. I will vote NO on 88

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  • random October 1, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    “Measure 88 would “make sure that every single person who’s operating an automobile on our streets has had an opportunity to take a test at the DMV,” said Aaron Brown, president of Oregon Walks.”

    Because if they flunk the test, I’m sure they’ll stop driving…

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    • KristenT October 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Same way as people with suspended licenses stop driving, yes?

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  • Jon October 1, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I really am sick of the term “undocumented”. When somebody stole my bike, did they become an “undocumented” owner? No, they were a thief. These people are breaking the law and living here illegally. I have worked with many people that followed the rules and became legal workers and citizens. It was difficult and took time but that is the law. Illegal workers depress the pay for all unskilled workers. Making their illegal stay in our country easier is not the answer. If I were pulled over and did not have a drivers licence I would expect to be arrested. If an illegal worker was pulled over I would hope that they were deported.

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    • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      My guess is that you don’t know very many of these undocumented people.

      “When somebody stole my bike, did they become an “undocumented” owner? No, they were a thief.”

      What exactly have these people stolen from you? Why do you resent them so?

      “I have worked with many people that followed the rules and became legal workers and citizens. It was difficult and took time but that is the law.”

      And you know
      – that these people we’re talking about aren’t interested in pursuing citizenship?
      – that there is a fair process through which they can eventually become citizens?

      “If an illegal worker was pulled over I would hope that they were deported.”

      I don’t think you fully understand what you just wrote; what it is like for people who are undocumented to live with that possibility every day.

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      • Jon October 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm

        I have and do work with many people who were not born in this country. Some of them were/are going through the process to become citizens but all were working in the country legally. If you work in or with any larger technology company you will work with many people in the the USA on work visas. Most of these people are very unhappy when they see how many people bypass the process and work in the country illegally. Why would a roofing contractor pay a living wage to a US citizen when they can hire an illegal for much less money? Why pay agricultural workers a living wage when there is an endless supply of illegal workers. If we as a country actually enforced the immigration laws then pay for people competing for work with illegal workers would go up. Many of these jobs are entry level jobs that get young people into the workforce. No other country in the developed world allows the huge number of illegal workers in their country like the USA.

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        • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 4:12 pm

          “No other country in the developed world allows the huge number of illegal workers in their country like the USA.”

          Jon, we may agree on more than you think, but you’re mixing up two separate issues
          (1) our country’s inconsistent handling of immigration, and
          (2) people who live and work in this country but without papers.

          I’m all for fixing (1), but the people we’re talking about who are here are not responsible for our screwed up policies, our haphazard and, frankly, inhuman enforcement. As for wages being driven down, where I live and work, many of the jobs occupied by people who have emigrated here from Mexico are, surprisingly often, not jobs anyone else is interested in. There are many skills that go with holding the kinds of jobs I’m talking about, but working hard and showing up consistently are two important ones that many, many people amazingly can’t seem to muster. The folks I interact with would sometimes prefer to hire citizens, or white folks, but they can’t find any who want the job or who measure up. If you get to know people on all sides of this issue you learn how not black and white it is.

          Are you familiar with the UFW’s Take Our Jobs campaign?
          http://www.ufw.org/toj_play/TOJNEW_12_JAL.html
          http://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/

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          • Jon October 1, 2014 at 5:44 pm

            I realize that many of the jobs that illegal workers do are not jobs are very appealing to citizens but if the jobs paid more maybe more citizens might be willing to do them. I know that currently I would have no interest in picking strawberries for $10/hour but if it paid $75,000 per year I would. I agree that there does need be some sort of guest worker program for lower end of the wage scale just like the H1B visa program for highly skilled tech workers that, in theory, forces a company to show that they are not displacing qualified citizens with foreign workers. The H1B program has a limit on the number of workers allowed per year and the workers are allowed to get documents that allow them drive, etc. Legal immigration and getting legal work permits is difficult but in my opinion that is the way it should be and is the norm for the rest of the developed world. I’m not voting to allow illegal workers to get driver’s licenses but I would be happy to vote yes on a logical guest worker program for lower skill jobs that really cannot be filled by citizens.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks, Jon. My own style preference is to use “people who came to the country illegally,” which is what the Associated Press does. “Undocumented” is a much shorter way to say something similar, which is why I used it above, but the AP doesn’t use that word because it’s not always literally true – some people who come illegally do actually have some form of documentation, just not the kind that would let them live in the US legally.

      I do think “undocumented immigrant” is a better phrase than “illegal immigrant” because, as the AP puts it, “illegal” just doesn’t make sense as an adjective to describe a person. It’s an adjective that describes an action (including illegally crossing a border or illegally overstaying a visa), and that’s how it’s used above.

      Sounds as if you disagree, but I wanted to make clear that it wasn’t a word choice made thoughtlessly.

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      • Don B October 3, 2014 at 11:07 am

        Except the phrase does not include those who came legally but then overstayed their visas …

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  • Spiffy October 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    it doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps a little, which is the most we can hope for… I’d rather that they be in the system and paying the fees instead of driving illegally… but I’d rather they not be driving at all…

    and if they’re here illegally how do they not get deported when they’re applying for the Driving Card, or when they get a ticket?

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    • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      “…how do they not get deported when they’re applying for the Driving Card, or when they get a ticket?”

      DMV ≠ ICE

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      What 9watts said on the DMV question. I has the same question about run-ins with law enforcement. Lopez, the person I interviewed who probably works most closely with folks living here illegally, said that it basically depends on the cop. If you’re living here illegally, have a driver’s card and then commit an offense (or injure someone), some officers will choose to kick you into the deportation system and some won’t, she said. Probably also tends to vary by the level of offense.

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  • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    One can work toward a real, consistent immigration policy while treating people who are not here legally with dignity and respect. Saying vindictive things about these people who have families and aspirations, just like the rest of us, serves no useful purpose except to demonize the other.

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  • Jagur October 1, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    9watts

    So, giving somone the privilige to drive is a sign of dignity and respect?

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    • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I was responding to Jon’s comments, not the license question specifically.
      But I will say that preventing a subset of the population from getting a driver’s license seems to me petty and vindictive, a backdoor way to punish people for circumstances that they can do very little about, now that they live here, work here, have in many cases raised families here. I’m sure we can all imagine a better approach to immigration, but we don’t have that, and the mess is not their fault.

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  • Jagur October 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I believe cars are responsible for most of societies ills, I really do. I also think the line with immigration has to be drawn somewhere. If life gets better because you can legally drive then it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

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    • 9watts October 1, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      “If life gets better because you can legally drive then it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.”
      Yes and no. I’d rather everyone biked and we could all collectively thumb our noses at the current law, but that is not as realistic in the here and now as I might wish. You know as well as I do that many people (documented and undocumented) right now are not able to find a job that is close enough to where they live to make that work well. Some people aren’t as lucky as I am to live half a mile from a grocery store. Someday we’ll figure it out, but in the meantime I’m for less vindictiveness and more compassion.

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  • Jagur October 1, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    And I will never feel like giving someone an easier path to driving is compassion. To me, it is realistic. If “we will figure it out one day” then why not start now? Making it easier to drive to work does not help long term.

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    • 9watts October 2, 2014 at 8:58 am

      “If ‘we will figure it out one day’ then why not start now? Making it easier to drive to work does not help long term.”

      As I said above, I see these as distinct issues. Continuing to make life difficult for undocumented immigrants by withholding the ability to renew their driver’s licenses is like the Tillamook county residents’ approach to their shoulderless roads & inattentive drivers: just forbid bikey folk from riding on Hwy 131. This is no way to make policy. Starting now is a great idea, but we’ve got to persuade the right people that this is prudent. In the meantime there are other things we can and should be doing.

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  • redhippie October 2, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    In other words, “disagree with my viewpoint and you are a racist”. Alternatively, maybe you could articulate why his position is inaccurate or suggest other options to address the underlying issues.

    thank you.

    Hart Noecker
    “To think that somebody who’s illegally here is all of a sudden going to get religion and start obeying laws when they get a driver’s license is sort of ridiculous. They think they’re above the law.”
    There’s so much blatant coded racism in this statement, I don’t even know where to begin.
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