Both sides stuck to their guns in a debate Friday about a ballot measure allowing Oregon to issue driver’s cards regardless of immigration status.
The Salem City Club played host to one of the few formal debates on Measure 88 on the Nov. 4 ballot.
A supporter said the measure is intended only to deal with knowledge of traffic rules and driving skills, and it’s not a substitute for broader federal immigration changes.
“This is a measure that is not going to solve all our national problems,” said Matt Swanson, executive director of the Oregon state council of Service Employees International Union, one of the organizations backing it.
“What it will do is make sure people will get to where they need to go.”
Swanson said that until Congress brings itself to deal with the larger issue, states can dabble in only small pieces. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, but the House has declined to take it up or craft its own legislation.
In 2013 the Legislature passed a law giving the Department of Motor Vehicles the authority to issue driver’s cards to people who cannot prove legal residency, which is a requirement for getting a driver’s license.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which led opposition to the law, obtained enough signatures to force a statewide election on the.
The law, which was suspended pending the Nov. 4 vote, allows four-year cards — not a regular eight-year license — to those who pass the driving tests but cannot show legal presence in the United States.
A “yes” vote on Measure 88 would allow the driver-card law to take effect as passed by the 2013 Legislature. A “no” vote would reject it.
A projected 160,000 Oregonians could be affected.
Cynthia Kendoll of Salem, the organization’s president, said Oregon will be the only state with a referendum on the issue. Ten other states — including California, Nevada and Washington — allow similar permits or do not require proof of legal presence.
“Legislators know, and the polls prove, that citizens do not want this,” she said.
“People tend to know in their hearts it is wrong to reward illegal behavior. This is why we are bringing this to the ballot and let people decide.”
According to a telephone survey conducted by DHM Research of Portland for Oregon Public Broadcasting/Fox 12, 60 percent of likely voters sampled oppose Measure 88, and 31 percent favor it.
The sample of 516 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Kendoll questioned statements by supporters that the law embodied in Measure 88 has law enforcement backing, when only retiring Portland Police Chief Mike Reese and retired Hillsboro Police Chief Ron Louie endorsed it during its drafting.
The Oregon State Sheriffs Association voted by a supermajority to oppose Measure 88.
But Swanson said several sheriffs did not join that majority.
Kendoll, in a question she asked directly of Swanson, said insurance companies appear not to be endorsing Measure 88 despite supporters’ arguments about traffic safety.
“Some of the ads your side has been running … have such a nasty tone around this issue that it’s probably hard for some of these group to stand forth,” Swanson replied.
Some Democratic legislators, including Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem, have been subjected to Republican attacks in direct-mail pieces for their support of the 2013 law. However, one attack mailer specifies that undocumented immigrants can obtain “a special Oregon drivers’ license,” but fails to explain the limited nature of the driver card.
Kendoll disavowed the GOP attacks, saying they were not originated by her group.
Swanson asked Kendoll how critics of Measure 88 would propose to ensure safer highway traffic if undocumented immigrants and others cannot show they have passed knowledge and skills tests and obtain the proper permits.
“We don’t want to invite a culture of corruption, where people and businesses pick and choose which laws they are going to follow,” Kendoll replied.
Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require proof of legal presence in the United States to obtain a driver’s license. Washington offers an “enhanced” license, which does require such proof, that enables its holders to travel to and from Canada without a U.S. passport.
Other states allowing driving permits for undocumented immigrants and others who cannot show proof of legal presence are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Utah and Vermont. Washington, D.C., also does so.
California’s law takes effect in January.
Tennessee repealed its law allowing alternatives.
The federal Real ID Act in 2005 requires states to demand proof of legal presence to issue a driver’s license, if it is to be used for federal identification purposes. The law also allows states to issue other forms of driver identification, which must look different than a regular license and which cannot be used for such purposes as entering a federal building or boarding commercial aircraft.