POLITICS

Oregon's farmers could hold key to granting driver licenses to undocumented immigrants

A ballot measure granting driver licenses to undocumented immigrants in Oregon is getting support from the state’s agricultural and business community – creating a “division” among the state’s Republican voters.

On November 4th, voters will decide whether or not to overturn a 2013 state law which gives immigrants in the United States illegally access to four-year driver licenses in Oregon. A vote for ballot measure 88 would mean people would not need to show proof of legal status to drive. A vote against the measure would strike down the law and require people to prove their legal residency before getting a driver license.

Although the measure is not receiving wide support the vote could ultimately come down to the state’s rural voters – many of whom are Republican voters, according to The Oregonian,

"The vocal faction of the party is saying that immigration is a bad thing and that we need to follow the rule of law," Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, told the newspaper. "Then there's the agricultural and business community saying, 'Heck no. We need this. People need to drive to their jobs.'"

When the law passed in Oregon’s House of Representatives in April of last year, all seven of those who voted against the law were Republican. Republican Rep. Vic Gilliam, was one of 14 Republicans who voted for driver cards for undocumented immigrants because he says his constituency, made up of farmers, wanted it.

Oregon’s farmers, like all U.S. farmers, are dependent on undocumented immigrant workers. Agriculture represents about 15 percent all economic activity in Oregon, raking in about $22 billion in profits.

Oregon was the top producer of blackberries, boysenberries, hazelnuts and Christmas trees in the United States in 2013 and there is no doubt, many say, that the business is deeply rooted in the need for undocumented immigrants to pick those crops. According to the National Center for Farm worker Health, about 72 percent of all farm workers in the United States are foreign born – most of them coming from Mexico.

Immigrant rights groups and proponents of measure 88 say licenses would make it easier for undocumented immigrants and their families to go to work and school. It would also, proponents say, make roads safer.

“This option means that all Oregonians have a safe and legal option to get to work, church and school,” Ron Louie, a retired Oregon police chief with more than 33 years of law enforcement experience, wrote in an op-ed for the Portland Tribune last week.  “It will reduce accidents and make our roads safer. And since each licensed driver is required to get auto insurance in Oregon, measure 88 protects all drivers on the road from financial loss.”

Opponents led by the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses organization say people shouldn’t be able to “pick and choose which laws to follow.”

“I oppose granting drivers licenses (cards) to people in the country illegally because you cannot uphold the rule of law by simultaneously carving out exemptions which undermine it,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, according to Protect Oregon Driver Licenses, a group of politicians and business leaders actively pushing to overturn the measure. .

Ten other states and the District of Columbia have voted to issue driver licenses, or cards, to undocumented immigrants.

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