New Law: Driver Card for Illegal Immigrants

Senate Bill 833, the Driver Card Bill, has been signed into law after thorough debate on the House Floor. (To watch my floor debate on YouTube, click here.)

In last week’s newsletter “Drivers’ Card for Illegal Immigrants?,” I was struggling with whether or not it would be good policy for Oregon to pass the Oregon Driver Card Bill, which grants driving privileges to individuals who cannot prove legal presence in the USA. There were compelling arguments on both sides of the matter.

Thanks to key comments from among the thousands of reader responses to my survey on this important issue, I am convinced SB 833 is a flawed bill that could do more harm than good. (To see the survey results and read the responses, click here.)

Ultimately for me, the question came down to: what unintended consequences of the Driver Card Bill could adversely impact Oregon’s employers, illegal immigrants, and society?

1. Unintended consequences for employers presented with an Oregon Driver Card:

It will be difficult for Oregon employers hiring employees to drive company vehicles to pretend they don’t know they are hiring someone illegally in the country after seeing the applicant’s Driver Card.

The new Oregon Driver Card for all practical purposes will be issued only to individuals who desire driving privileges without providing evidence of lawful presence in Oregon and the USA.

Employers who know their prospective or current employee has only an Oregon Driver Card may assume they are dealing with someone who cannot prove they are legally in the USA.

Knowingly hiring someone who is illegally in our country or knowingly hiring someone who is believed to have provided falsified documentation—such as a Social Security Card, when the applicant would not have qualified to have one—may be a serious violation of state or federal laws and even subject that employer to criminal charges.

If an employer signs an I-9 form knowing the employee is illegally in the USA, the employer could be federally prosecuted for perjury, a felony.

2. Unintended consequences for illegal immigrants who obtain an Oregon Driver Card:

As a practical matter, those who obtain the Driver Card voluntarily identify themselves as unlawfully being in the USA.  Government officials, employers and others who are shown the Driver Card will see it as an admission of illegal status. Any of these people who decide to report the Driver Card holder to federal authorities may subject him or her to possible arrest and deportation. Thus, there is an essential conflict between Oregon policy and federal immigration law.

When someone driving with a Driver Card is stopped for a traffic violation, the investigating officer will immediately know they cannot prove legal status.

If an individual with an Oregon Driver Card is arrested and taken to jail, the jailers can easily notify federal immigration authorities who can quickly check records, and immigration violation proceedings could begin.

3. Unintended consequences for Oregon society resulting from the new Driver Card law:

a.      New Mexico’s experience.

  1. Failed to lessen number of uninsured drivers.
  2. Encouraged additional illegal immigration into New Mexico—the state has approximately 49,000 illegal immigrants, yet 80,000 licenses have been issued to foreign nationals.
  3. Governor Susana Martinez wants to repeal the New Mexico law, citing problems relating to fraud, human trafficking, organized crime and national security.

b.      Tennessee’s experience.

  1. Stopped issuing driving certificates in response to non-residents being shuttled to Tennessee from other states.
  2. Stopped issuing driving certificates after substantial increase of false residency documents and bribery of government officials.
  3. Rescinded law and ended the granting of certificates for driving to illegal immigrants.

c.      llegal is still illegal. Many who responded with comments to my survey feel strongly that a person who breaks our immigration laws should not be rewarded with legal driving privileges.

Conclusion: Notwithstanding the desire to help thousands of undocumented workers and their families be assimilated into Oregon society by enabling them to drive legally, supporters of the new Oregon Driver Card may do more harm than good. The Driver Card may make it more difficult for those illegally in Oregon to be hired. Employers who accept the new Driver Card may assume greater liability for illegal hiring practices. Those who show their Driver Cards may become targets for federal immigration law investigation. And, states such as Tennessee and New Mexico, that offered such driver cards, either have repealed those laws or has a Governor who wishes the laws were terminated.

Once again, I thank those who shared their input with me. Although I did not support Senate Bill 833, it now is Oregon law and will become effective January 1, 2014. Time will tell whether or not the Oregon Driver Card was good policy or fraught with negative unintended consequences.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative