Governor tightens access to drivers licenses


Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed an executive order Friday that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get Oregon driver's licenses.

The governor said the action was necessary because Oregon laws on documents needed to obtain a license are among the most permissive in the nation and the term the license is valid for is long, making the state more vulnerable to fraud.

"It is unacceptable for our state to be a magnet for people trying to illegally obtain a driver license or identification card," Kulongoski said in a statement.

Under the new executive order, license applicants must have a valid Social Security number or show they are in the country legally.

State officials would be required to verify the Social Security numbers, something now done only for commercial drivers.

"There is an increasing concern, based on ongoing investigations, that Oregon is becoming a safe haven" for unlawfully obtaining identification, said Kulongoski's spokeswoman, Patty Wentz.

"We need to quickly change the requirements to more closely match other states."

Oregon has been one of seven states that do not require proof of "legal presence" to get a license.

Kulongoski's order would limit the kinds of identification the state can accept before issuing a license.

"I'm glad he's coming to the party," said Republican state Rep. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, who is working on a proposal for the February legislative session to tighten license rules.

Immigration-rights advocates were critical.

"This is clearly aimed at undocumented immigrants and not at any sort of national security plan," said Aeryca Steinbauer of Causa, a statewide coalition that advocates for immigrants.

Oregon has an estimated 175,000 undocumented immigrants, mostly Latino.

Steinbauer said Kulongoski's order will not stop adults from continuing to drive, creating a potential safety problem.

The governor supports a secondary "driving only" permit that would allow people without proper documentation to continue to drive legally. That change would require legislative approval, but lawmakers have been reluctant to support it.

Utah is the only state that has such a system. New York was considering a second-tier license but dropped it.

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