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Should ‘legal presence’ be proven?
Local leaders have different views on Governor’s planned immigration bill
A workgroup that has been assembled by Oregon Governor Kitzhaber to address licensing for undocumented immigrants is drawing a great deal of attention from both sides of the political fence.
During an immigrant-rights rally on May 1, 2012, Kitzhaber had Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian read a statement Kitzhaber had prepared for the participants at the rally.
“I want to take a moment to share with you what motivates me. My political awakening occurred in the spring of 1968, with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, and just a few months before, Dr. Martin Luther King. Speaking in Cleveland the day after Dr. King was shot, Kennedy put the assassination in a broader context of violence. He said, “There is another kind of violence, slower, but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that affects the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.”’
“We are gathered here 44 years later to make sure that is not our future in Oregon, not here, no now, not ever,” Kitzhaber continued in the statement. “That is why I am working to ensure that all Oregonians — regardless of their race or ethnicity — have the support they need to reach their full potential. Right now, too many Oregonians are traveling from home to work, or school, or church, in risk of violating the law. They are forced to choose between this risk and providing for their families.”
Currently, under the law passed in 2008, all applicants vying for an Oregon Driver’s License is required to provide the Department of Motor Vehicles documents that provide proof of legal presence. This includes proof of U.S. citizenship of lawful presence in the country, proof that they are not entitled to a Social Security number, if they do not have one and are not eligible for one, and proof of full legal name. They must also bring in one document proving their legal presence in the United States.
In his statement, Kitzhaber added that he would convene a diverse workgroup of business, labor, public safety, faith, and community leaders to develop a consensus on driver identification for undocumented immigrants.
“It is my hope that they will come together around changes to our driver’s license laws, allow people to come out of the shadows and contribute to our state’s economic recovery,” Kitzhaber continued.” I remain committed to this issue and will continue to provide leadership on this important work.”
In April 2011, the Oregon Senate Committee heard a bill that proposed to remove proof of legal presence as a requirement for a driver’s license. Legal presence means that a person is a citizen or permanent legal resident of the United States or is otherwise legally present in the United States under federal immigration laws. A hearing was held, but the bill did not advance to a vote.
The proposal from Kitzhaber’s group is an emotional one for both proponents and opponents. Some states such as Washington and New Mexico issue a driver’s license without proof of legal presence. In Utah, drivers can be issued a driving privilege card that must be renewed every year. A similar card was proposed in the Oregon Legislature, but it was shelved in 2005.
“I appreciate the notion —and I think it’s a wonderful thing that we are looking out for all of the people who reside in America,” commented Curriculum Director for Crook County Schools Dennis Kostelecky. “If a student shows up at the school’s doorsteps, we accept them. We take them in. I don’t know if the licensing process would help them, or would make them feel comfortable or feel less comfortable.”
Jim Ludwick of the Oregonians for Immigration Reform said that their organization was part of the process in getting the 2008 law passed, which requires proof of legal presence to obtain a valid Oregon Driver’s license. Ludwick said that the previous Oregon Governor, Ted Kulongoski, had a big hand in the passage of the law.
“Governor Kitzhaber stated on two different occasions that he wants to give what he calls the ability to drive, for people to go to jobs who can’t legally do so now,” he said.
Dennis Dotson, Sheriff for Lincoln County and represents the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association for Kitzhaber’s ODL Workgroup, said that their last meeting was in April 2012. He noted that a place marker has been put in place for a bill that would address licensing for undocumented immigrants.
“There is no language that I am aware of, and I know there were several different concepts that were being looked at that had been tried by other states, but at the last meeting the group had not come to consensus as to which one to pursue.”
Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley commented that regardless of the outcome of the proposed legislation, he, of course, will honor what the law says.
“Do I necessarily agree with the fact that illegal aliens should be able to get a driver’s license?” commented Hensley. “I would have to say in my own opinion — no. What they need to do is start the procedure to become legal.”
He added that they should become legal so they can get a driver’s license. He noted that prior to the 2008 change in law, it was too easy for people to get a driver’s license.
Greg Lambert, President and founder of Mid Oregon Personnel, works with a diverse group of employers and workers on a daily basis. Lambert emphasized that he believes the issue has nothing to do with ethnicity, but has everything to do with the basic rule of law.
“This push is to say, no, we are not going to be a rule of law, we will be a rule of men,” said Lambert. “These people are here illegally, we are going to accommodate them being here illegally by making life as easy on them as we can, and that flies in the face of the founding principal of rule of law. The problem with that is, what else are these people going to say that they are going to change at their own whim? Either we are rule of law or we are not. If you don’t like the law, change the law. The basic law is, are you here legally or not?”
“I don’t believe we can expect to survive as a society if we don’t stay under rule of law rather than rule of man,” added Lambert. “Our forefathers fled Europe because they were under rule of man.”
In regards to Kitzhaber’s comment, “Right now, too many Oregonians are traveling from home to work, or school, or church, in risk of violating the law,” the question was asked to Kitzhaber’s spokesperson — who deferred the question to his ODL Workgroup Committe Chair, whether they were not already violating the law if they are illegally in the country?
Kitzhaber’s Committee chair for the ODL Workgroup was unavailable for comment at press time.