Kulongoski up against a wall of opposition


Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski still supports giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, even though New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has backed away from a similar proposal.

Spokeswoman Patty Wentz said Kulongoski believes life would be safer for all if illegal immigrants had to go through the process of getting licenses.

But the idea has drawn opposition from Democrats and Republicans in the Oregon Legislature.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Democrat Rick Metsger, said the consensus among lawmakers is that the public strongly opposes the idea. And he says he doubts such a plan would work.

"You could count on one hand the number of supporters there are for this in the Legislature &

if there are even that many," Metsger said of Kulongoski's proposal to extend driving privileges to the thousands of undocumented workers who reside in Oregon.

Spitzer cited a similar wall of opposition among New York lawmakers as well as a public outcry against the idea in dropping his proposal earlier Wednesday.

Many lawmakers want Oregon to stop giving driving privileges to undocumented immigrants when it adopts new federal driver's license requirements, which require proof of citizenship or legal residence before someone can get a driver's license. The state is one of seven that do not require such proof to obtain driver's licenses.

An alternative proposed by Kulongoski would adopt the "legal presence" standard for driver's licenses but create a second-tier "driving only" card for those who can't prove their citizenship or legal residency. The card would not serve as identification for state or federal purposes, such as boarding an airliner.

Kulongoski, along with immigrants rights advocates and some agriculture industry officials, contends the current policy has worked well for the state because it encourages illegal workers who are driving anyway to undergo driver's training and pass a test showing familiarity with driving laws.

"Unlicensed drivers are more likely to get into accidents, because they haven't passed a test showing they know the rules of the road," Aeryca Steinbauer, coordinator for the immigrant rights group CAUSA.

Any move to create a "driving privilege only" card would have to be approved by lawmakers. Metsger said he doubts there's any support for bringing up the proposal in the Legislature's February session.

Kulongoski does plan to use his executive authority this week to enact tougher driver's license requirements. Motorists would have to prove they are in the state legally before they could be issued a license.

The Democratic governor first raised the issue last month, saying Oregon's loose rules have made the state a target for noncitizens who seek to obtain identification cards for "nefarious" purposes.

"Securing Oregon's driver's license is the governor's top priority, so that people can't come to Oregon with fake identification to get a driver's license," Wentz said.

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