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Oregon’s Driver Card: On the Road to Equality for LGBTQ Immigrants

November 3, 2014

A driver’s license is a big deal. And not just in that “I was 16 once” sort of way. A license is important for many things—including the simple fact that you need it to legally drive anywhere. Whether to school, work, or the grocery store, public transit isn’t always a feasible option depending on where you live. A license is also necessary for opening a bank account, checking in at a hospital or hotel, purchasing auto insurance, going to events that have age restrictions, and more. A license is a central part of functioning in daily life, and for Oregon’s 3.9 million residents, it is a basic necessity on a thousand levels.

Yes on 88

Yes on 88

That’s why it’s shocking that so many people lack access to appropriate identification documents including driver’s licenses, especially LGBTQ people and undocumented immigrants (267,000 of whom are LGBT). Many states have made efforts to update their policies on ID documents for LGBT people, and a growing trend is emerging, as states pass legislation to create a process for undocumented immigrants to access driver’s licenses. While awaiting comprehensive immigration reform, 10 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, have enacted legislation for driver ID cards that are issued to eligible applicants, regardless of immigration status. On Election Day, voters in Oregon have the opportunity to weigh in on the decision too.

The initiative, Measure 88, called the “Alternative Driver Licenses Referendum,” would enact a driver ID card provision, which would issue driver ID cards to any eligible applicant regardless of immigration status. In order to qualify as eligible, applicants must meet fairly standard criteria—pass the driver’s test (written and behind the wheel), provide proof of residence in Oregon for more than a year, and provide proof of identity and birth. Unlike a driver’s license, the driver ID card is only issued for a four-year duration, does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S., and does not carry citizenship benefits (cannot be used for air travel, voting rights, access to federal buildings, or government programs or benefits for U.S. citizens).

The Yes on 88 campaign and others in favor of the card argue that it will keep roads and communities safe. Think about it—for Oregon’s community and law enforcement, the law allows Oregon to regulate who is on the road and to know who is driving, and it also helps drivers meet insurance requirements. Overall, it would reduce the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road. Those opposed to the card primarily assert that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be in the U.S. in the first place and that federal immigration reform is key.

The fact remains that there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants throughout the U.S. today, 160,000 of which live and work in Oregon. People, especially those that have fought hardship and barriers to be here, are working hard to build families, support the community, and contribute to the economy. Undocumented workers and families produce positive economic impacts. Not only do families need goods and services (which increases demand for jobs), but also undocumented workers pay taxes, and a fairly substantial amount at that. In 2010 alone, undocumented immigrants in Oregon paid nearly $94 million in state and local taxes, including nearly $47 million in state income taxes, $23 million in property taxes, and $24 million in sales taxes. In fact, studies show that if all undocumented immigrants were removed from Oregon, “the state would lose $3.4 billion in economic activity, $1.5 billion in gross state product, and approximately 19,259 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time.”

Preventing people from accessing licenses is an unnecessary obstacle to progress. It just puts another roadblock in the way. There’s no reason to add insult to injury, and adding more barriers doesn’t somehow make someone’s work less valuable. There are about a million reasons why people come to the U.S., and denying them a livelihood or the ability to get around is not in line with our values as a country and the American dream.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” 

by Stacey Long, National LGBTQ Task Force Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs

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