My View: New license law will help families thrive
Thanks to the efforts of thousands of Oregonians, this week Gov. Kate Brown is scheduled to sign House Bill 2015, the Equal Access to Roads Act, into law. When this law goes into effect in 2021, for the first time in more than a decade, no Oregonian will be denied a driver's license simply because of their immigration status.
This victory recognizes the integral role transportation plays in a family's ability to access healthcare, education, and economic opportunities. As a county commissioner representing East Portland and as a parent myself, I know driving plays a big role in caring for our loved ones.
Parents spend more time on our roads taxiing family members and as a result, are more likely to come in contact with law enforcement when driving. For immigrant families, the implications are far more serious than traffic fines, as traffic stops are often a cause of deportation and family separation.
And as the recent ICE raids demonstrated, many families are living with the very real fear of deportation, and are forced to forgo critical services they need to care for themselves and their family.
Barriers to transportation compound existing inequities and can lead to major disparities in health outcomes. This is especially true for immigrant families and in rural communities, where agricultural workers often lack public transportation options to access these services. Undocumented Oregonians already are prohibited from enrolling in many health plans and often lack the financial means to otherwise pay for health services.
I believe that when every family has the resources they need to live healthy lives, we all benefit. However, we must think beyond the doctor's office to address the social determinants of health if we want to grow our economy, improve outcomes and drive down costs. And we need to rethink and rebuild our systems that have prevented many communities from having equal access to critical services.
With the Equal Access to Roads Act, we are building on recent victories for health equity. The 2017 legislative session saw the passage of Cover All Kids and the Reproductive Health Equity Act. I am proud to live in a state that covers health care for all children and ensures all people can access prenatal, postnatal, and the full spectrum of reproductive health care services at little to no cost.
We have made great strides in addressing some of the biggest issues faced by undocumented Oregonians in caring for their families. Sadly, these wins for health and transportation equity and reproductive justice will go only so far, as the potential of these policies to impact health and economic outcomes is severely undermined by our current federal administration's new policies that use ICE, the 2020 U.S. Census, and other scare tactics in efforts to pit families against families.
This bill is an important step forward, and we should recognize the gravity of decriminalizing the necessary act of driving and the critical role it plays in caring for our families.
But true economic and health equity will require our continued commitment, and I am among the thousands of Oregonians ready to pull up our sleeves and work to make our state a place where all families have access to the necessities they need to succeed and thrive.
To learn more
The impact of Oregon's driver's license law on Latino residents was explored in our 2017 investigative series, Unequal Justice, in the article "Driving While Brown."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.