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Last November, via the Measure 88 referendum, Oregonians overturned the 2013 state law that offered driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The magnitude of that rejection — the margin was almost two-to-one — made it clear: the vote transcended the issue of driver’s licenses to constitute a general mandate against state government policies that offer benefits to illegal immigrants and encourage them to settle in Oregon.


It is a mandate, however, that some legislators are determined to ignore.

Last month, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee passed Senate Bill 932, which would offer taxpayer-funded Oregon Opportunity Grant scholarships to illegal immigrants who have graduated from the state’s high schools. The bill builds upon the 2013 state law that granted those illegal immigrants in-state tuition to Oregon’s public universities. Currently, SB 932 is before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

SB 932’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), argues that the students the bill would aid — people who entered the United States illegally as minors, often brought by one or more parents — “are Oregonians like everyone else.” But he’s wrong. The circumstances of those youths’ arrival do not make them Oregonians; they still are citizens of other nations here in violation of federal immigration law.

Oregon Opportunity grant applicants are available to limited-income Americans and legal residents who often are the first in their families to seek education beyond high school. Is it right to force them to compete with illegal immigrants for a finite number of taxpayer-funded scholarships? Whatever sympathy Dembrow and his allies have for young illegal immigrants, they should understand this: Our nation does those youths no wrong when it devotes itself first and foremost to the interests of citizens and legal residents.

As well as contradicting Oregonians’ ballot-box rejection of benefits for illegal immigrants, SB 932 frustrates their will in another way: Dembrow has saddled the bill with an emergency clause which would expedite its enactment into law, and in so doing, shield it from a referendum challenge. Dembrow told the Eugene Register Guard newspaper that the clause is needed so that illegal immigrant “students (may) access opportunity grants in the coming school year.”

One way Webster’s defines “emergency” is “an urgent need for assistance or relief.” But what is “urgent” about providing taxpayer-funded scholarships to people in our nation illegally? The real crisis is that legislators may pass SB 932 with a clause that will deny Oregonians their constitutional right to try and overturn it via referendum.

Lawmakers should heed last November’s clear mandate against benefits for illegal immigrants and reject Senate Bill 932. If they will not, however, before passing it they should have the courage — and the respect for those who elect them — to remove its emergency clause and allow Oregonians to seek to refer it, if they wish, to a vote of their fellow citizens.

Richard F. LaMountain of Cedar Mill served as a chief petitioner in the 2014 referendum that overturned the 2013 state law granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants

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