Weeks after President Obama deemed immigration reform too contentious to act upon until after the November midterm elections, local advocates for Oregon’s Measure 88 are trying to keep the debate from dissolving into another divisive scuffle over immigration. The measure is a referendum on an Oregon Senate bill that makes four-year driver licenses available to those who cannot prove they are in the country legally.
Philip Carrasco, chairman for Grupo Latino de Acción Directa (GLAD) of Lane County, considers it essential that the conversation stays grounded in what the measure would change — making roads safer and giving undocumented workers and immigrants the right to drive legally with temporary driver cards acquired through traditional driver’s tests.
“[Undocumented workers] are trying to fill the basic need for their families, which is sustaining them with the food that they need,” Carrasco says. “And to do so, they need to have access to jobs. To get to their job, they need to be able to know the rules of the road.”
Carrasco says that, should the measure become law, community groups like GLAD and Centro Latino Americano will reach out to immigrants and facilitate the licensing process by offering translation services and walking them through applying for insurance. He says that the effectiveness of such temporary licensing laws can be seen in other states, such as in New Mexico where the rate of uninsurance dropped from 33 percent to 10.6 percent between 2002 and 2007.
Jim Ludwick of the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses campaign, however, says he sees nothing wrong with Oregon’s current policy of impounding cars driven by immigrants without licenses, and considers Measure 88 a proxy war in the effort to keep those immigrants from having the same rights as American citizens.
“Either we’re a nation of laws, or we’re a third-world country just like these people are trying to escape from,” Ludwick says. “You start rewarding people for breaking the law with driver’s licenses or food stamps or whatever it is, you only encourage more abhorrent behavior.”
Raquel Hecht, a Eugene-based immigration lawyer, sees this argument as beside the point, given the fundamental value of immigrants to our state. “These people exist in our community, they are working, and they go to church and they have kids,” Hecht says. “Do we want them to have legal driving privileges given those facts, or are we going to keep making their lives even more miserable by focusing on what the federal government needs to focus on?”