Oregon voters made a mistake in 2014 when they overwhelmingly overturned a new state law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses.
Opponents of the law had blocked it from taking effect unless voters gave their consent. The opponents claimed the law would validate illegal immigration and thus encourage other unlawful behavior. In reality, it would have made our roads and streets safer for everyone.
A measure in the 2019 Legislature would rectify that situation. House Bill 2015 would allow residents of the state to obtain driver licenses without providing proof of citizenship so long as they met the other DMV requirements. The legislation makes sense on multiple fronts.
If people are driving, it is in society's best interests to ensure they know, understand and heed Oregon's rules of the road. Driving laws and customs vary widely around the world. For example, in the U.S., a left-turn signal indicates the driver intends to move into a left lane or turn to the left. In Mexico, that same signal sometimes is used to tell a driver behind you that it is safe to pass on the left.
Although some people are in the U.S. illegally, that does not mean they will ignore our driving laws. There is a tremendous difference between leaving one's country in search of a better life — often because of poverty and violence — and heeding local traffic laws.
Driving legally allows people to participate in the community — going to school, work, church, medical appointments and other activities. That participation builds civic connections and community safety, instead of forcing people to live in the shadows where they victimize or become victims.
The proposed law also would benefit individuals who have lost their birth certificates or other documentation of citizenship.
Oregonians strongly resisted a ballot measure that would have overturned our status as a "sanctuary state." That suggests residents are becoming more realistic about immigration issues, which are a federal problem that Oregon cannot solve regardless of our regulations on driving.
HB 2015's supporters cover nearly half the Legislature, including a few Republicans, but it has not yet had a hearing in the Joint Committee on Transportation.
The bill would not apply to commercial licenses or learner permits, only to personal learner permits, driver licenses and ID cards. A person who lacks documentation of citizenship or legal immigration status could submit a written statement that he or she has not been assigned a Social Security number. The resulting permit or license would be valid for driving in Oregon but would not comply with the federal Real ID Act and thus could not be used as ID for going through security at airports or for entering federal buildings.
As was reported in a Register-Guard story last week, 12 states and the District of Columbia already issue similar driver licenses and more are considering taking that route.
HB 2015 is common sense. If it becomes law, the sun will still rise every morning, the world will not implode and our state's streets and roads will be friendlier and safer.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard