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April 17, 2013
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Other voices: Drivers should be licensed to make our roads safer

Oregon should make short-term driver licenses available for the state’s undocumented residents.

This is not about bestowing rights on people who came into this country illegally but about protecting anyone who is on Oregon roads.

It’s estimated that thousands of people are driving illegally in Oregon because they don’t qualify for the regular, eight-year driver license with its required proof of citizenship. And if they don’t have vehicle insurance, or if they don’t understand U.S. rules of the road, they increase the risks for the rest of us.

The Senate Committee on Business and Transportation conducted a public hearing earlier this month on Senate Bill 833, and a work session was held last week.

The bill would allow residents to obtain a four-year driver license if they can prove their identity and have lived in Oregon for at least a year. The license could not be used for driving commercial vehicles, obtaining a concealed handgun license, purchasing firearms or going through airport security.

The Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division would design the short-term license, which would be identified as such.

Critics see this as flouting U.S. immigration law. Not so. Immigration enforcement is a federal issue. Driver licenses traditionally have been a state issue, although Congress got involved with the Real ID Act of 2005.

Gov. John Kitzhaber endured a lot of flak for asking business, law enforcement, immigration-rights and other organizations to collaboratively develop a driver license proposal. But their 22 months of work has yielded a common-sense approach.

It’s true that many Oregon residents who would seek the short-term licenses are in the U.S. illegally, having overstayed student or other visas, or having entered the country unlawfully. But guess what, folks? They’re here, and it’s smarter to have them driving properly than to ignore reality.

Even if the current Congress rewrites our national immigration practices, several years may pass before the changes are implemented. In the meantime, no one realistically expects the undocumented immigrants to disappear or to stop driving to work, school, church and other places.

The short-term driver license would require the DMV’s usual driving tests. That is important, because driving practices in the U.S. are far different from those in some other cultures. An undocumented-immigrant driver who becomes informed on Oregon traffic regulations is a safer driver.

In addition, there are a good many Oregonians who qualify as citizens or other legal resident but have been unable to obtain driver licenses since the Real ID Act took effect. They have lost their papers, they have been unable to get a birth certificate or, because they were born in a different era, no official records of their birth exist.

SB 833 is good for Oregon. It doesn’t affect immigration status. It addresses safer driving.

The Associated Press provided access to this editorial.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 17, 2013 10:02AM Published Apr 17, 2013 10:00AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.