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Lines drawn in alternative driver's license debate

Supporters say measure would improve safety on Oregon streets; opponents worry it would make state vulnerable to fraud


Photo Credit: LINDSAY KEEFER | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN in Woodburn, talks to a crowd of about 60 people about immigration reform and Yes on 88 at a rally earlier this month.In the ongoing national debate about immigration reform, Oregon was one of a number of states to make changes to driver’s license policies in 2013.

The Legislature’s response was Senate Bill 833, which was intended to make four-year “driver cards” available to residents who cannot prove their legal presence in the United States.

The bill was approved, but before it was enacted, a veto referendum was successful in placing the issue on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election.

The driver card would differ from an Oregon driver’s license in several ways, including that the card would be valid for only four years, as compared to the license’s eight.

The card, like the license, would also require applicants to pass written and behind-the-wheel tests, provide proof of residency in Oregon for at least one year and provide proof of identity and date of birth.

But that’s not enough for Jim Ludwick, communications director for the political action committee Oregonians for Immigration Reform and the Protect Oregon Driver’s Licenses (PODL, pronounced “poe-dle”) committee.

Ludwick said his organization, which led the referendum effort, is worried that SB 833, if enacted, would make the state and its licensing offices more susceptible to foreign criminals and drug traffickers.

“(Interstate 5)?is a major artery for Mexican drug cartels,” Ludwick said. “And they want these driver cards. I think the feeling is, if they have a driver card, they can go anywhere.”

Ludwick said he is worried that SB 833 would reinstate the practice of Matrícula Consular cards being accepted by the Department of Motor Vehicles as proof of identification.

Although issued by the government of Mexico with a number of security features, the card has been criticized by U.S. law enforcement officials and agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as being unreliable and highly vulnerable to fraud.

Ludwick is afraid that, under SB 833, a criminal could falsify a Matrícula card, then use it to obtain a driver card, in which case the state would be effectively lending legitimacy to the fraudulent identity.

“That would basically be Oregon verifying that this is the person whose face agrees with that name,” he said.

Ludwick said the current law in Oregon already allows legal immigrants or temporary residents to obtain driver’s licenses, but the licenses are valid only for the duration of the individual’s documented legal presence in the country.

As further evidence of safety concerns associated with the measure, Ludwick pointed out that the referendum has been publicly supported by a number of law enforcement officials, including Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, former Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller and the Sheriffs of Oregon political action committee.

But Caroline Fitchett, campaign director for Yes on 88, rebutted Ludwick’s claims. She said there are “important safeguards required in order to obtain a driver card,” designed to address safety concerns.

“The facial recognition feature, proof of identity and proof of residency in Oregon for at least one year are key requirements the DMV will utilize in order to prevent fraud,”?she said.

She pointed out that law enforcement officials have also supported the Yes on 88 campaign, including retired Hillsboro Police Chief Ron Louie.

Other proponents of Yes on 88 includes dozens of Latino and migrant workers’ advocates, civil rights groups, labor unions and religious organizations, including the Woodburn-based farmworkers union PCUN.

“Oregon’s neighboring states, Washington, California and Nevada, have laws that allow all Oregon residents to get tested and insured to drive,” Fitchett said. “By passing Measure 88, Oregon would join our neighboring states in making this needed change for public safety.”

Fitchett also said that, under Measure 88, the driver card could not be used as valid ID?in the way that a driver’s license can.

“The driver card is limited for driving purposes only,” she said. “The driver card cannot be used as identification to board a plane, register to vote, buy a gun or obtain government benefits.”

She said the card would comply with Congress’ 2005 Real ID Act, so it could not be used for any federal identification purposes. She added that, as a matter of federal law, a state-issued driver card could could not convey or change anyone’s immigration status.

In addition to helping the families of undocumented workers, Fitchett said the measure would assist senior citizens who are unable to access their birth certificate or were never issued one.

If Measure 88 is approved in November, the law could take effect in as little as 30 days.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.