Can you prove you’re a citizen?
Immigration concerns could lead to tougher DMV regulations
The 2007 Oregon
Legislature must decide whether to require everyone applying for a
state driver’s license to prove they are in this country legally and
have a valid Social Security number.
Oregon law does not
currently require those applying for driver’s licenses to be U.S.
citizens or legal aliens. But a 2005 federal law called the Real ID Act
requires all states to issue driver’s licenses only to legal U.S.
residents with proof of their citizenship status. The act was passed
for a variety of purposes, including cracking down on potential illegal
immigrants, fraud, ID theft and child-support evaders.
act, citizens will be required to produce birth certificates,
naturalization papers or passports. Legal aliens will have to show
their immigration and residency documents. The act also requires all
applicants to have valid Social Security numbers.
The requirements would apply to both new applicants and people renewing their licenses.
All state governments must comply with the law by May 2008. If not,
the driver’s licenses and identification cards they issue will not be
accepted as identification for such federally regulated activities as
boarding an airplane, opening a checking account, collecting Social
Security benefits or qualifying for federally guaranteed student loans.
State Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, said it is too
early to know what the Legislature will do because the federal
government has not yet finished writing the rules to implement the law.
But Brown is concerned that Congress has not appropriated any money to
help pay for the new licenses, which, she says, could cost up to $100
each to issue.
“People aren’t going to be willing to pay that,
and there will be gridlock at airports if the federal goverment doesn’t
get its act together,” Brown said.
One goal of the Real ID Act
is stemming the flow of illegal aliens, according to co-sponsor U.S.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. In a Jan. 27 letter to constituents,
Sensenbrenner said the act helps to bring “the issue of illegal
immigration to the forefront of the national debate.”
Jim Ludwick, the director of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, believes the state should comply with the Real ID Act.
“If we don’t comply, we face financial ruin. There are so many
things we won’t be able to do with our driver licenses — including
getting a job,” said Ludwick, whose statewide advocacy group favors
tougher immigration laws.
A number of immigration-rights groups
oppose the federal act, saying it will turn the Oregon Driver and Motor
Vehicle Services into a de facto immigration agency and will not
prevent illegal immigrants from driving without licenses.
will just marginalize undocumented workers even more and fuel a huge
black market in forged documents,” said Aeryca Steinbauer, a
coordinator for Causa, an immigrant-rights organization whose name
means “cause” in Spanish.
Oregon currently is one of 10 states
allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, provided they
are Oregon residents. According to DMV spokesman David House, the
Legislature made the decision because it considers driving to be a
Like other applicants, illegal aliens must pass written and hands-on driving tests to obtain their licenses.
“The feeling was, they’re here and driving anyway, so we need to make sure they’re safe drivers,” House said.
No committee of the Legislature currently is studying whether to
comply with the act. According to House, the state DMV has provided
individual legislators with background information on the act if they
The act also applies to identification cards issued by the state agency.
An analysis prepared by the Oregon DMV says that if the Legislature
agrees to comply with the act, “every driver in Oregon will be required
to provide proof of identity, Social Security number, legal presence
and address before being issued a driver’s license or identification
Illegal residents hard to count
DMV analysis predicts the new requirement could prevent 2.6 percent to
6 percent of driving-age residents from qualifying for a license.
According to House, the figures are only a guess because no one knows,
for certain, how many illegal aliens live in Oregon.
agencies and nonprofits both publish estimates of the number of illegal
immigrants in Oregon. They vary widely, with the government figures on
the lower side.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were
90,000 illegal immigrants in Oregon in 2000. The Oregon Employment
Department estimates the number is much higher now, somewhere between
120,000 and 132,000. The nonprofit Pew Hispanic Center put the figure
of “unauthorized migrants” even higher in an April 2006 fact sheet —
between 125,000 and 175,000. Also in April, the Oregon Center for
Public Policy, a liberal think tank, issued a report that
“conservatively” puts the “undocumented” immigrant population between
128,000 and 150,000.
A 2005 study by Bear Stearns, a national
investment consulting firm, concludes the higher estimates are more
accurate — and may even be too low. The study, titled “The Underground
Labor Force Is Rising to the Surface,” does not break the illegal
immigrant population down by state. But it concludes that the federal
government is drastically underestimating the number of illegal
immigrants in the country.
According to the report, the number
of illegal aliens in the country is at least twice the U.S. Census
Bureau’s estimate of around 9 million.
The size of this
extra-legal segment of the population is significantly understated
because the U.S. Census Bureau does not capture the total number of
illegal immigrants,” reads the report.
Although there are no
exact numbers, the majority of immigrants in Oregon — both legal and
illegal — are Hispanic. The Census Bureau estimates that 311,400
foreign-born people lived in Oregon in 2002. Of that number, the
largest group — 36.17 percent— was born in Mexico. For comparison, all
Asian countries put together accounted for 29.37 percent of the
The Census asks people if they speak a
language other than English at home. In 2000, approximately 321,350
Oregonians said yes, with more than 214,605 saying their primary
language was Spanish. The next most-common languages — German,
Vietnamese and Russian — each had less that one-tenth the number of
Many workers undocumented
new requirements in the Real ID Act undoubtedly will inconvenience many
Oregonians who have lost their proof of citizenship or immigration
papers. But, if the new requirements prevent illegal immigrants from
driving, they also could cause problems for employers who rely on them,
knowingly or otherwise.
“Undocumented immigrants are critical to
the state work force. Without proper identification, these people will
find it harder to prove identity in banks and retail establishments and
to qualify for Oregon jobs,” according to the DMV analysis.
Whatever the figures, the employment department believes that the vast
majority of adult illegal immigrants are working. A routine 2001
Immigration and Naturalization Service audit found that illegal
immigrants are a significant presence in the Portland area. As part of
the audit, INS officials reviewed the paperwork for 3,306 service
industry employees and found that 834 — 25 percent — were in violation
of immigration laws.
The results of the audit were released days
before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since then, Congress has abolished
the INS and assigned its enforcement powers to a new agency within the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: U.S. Immigration and Customs
ICE no longer conducts routine audits on employees
within a service sector, according to Virginia Kice, ICE’s western
regional communications director and spokeswoman. Instead, Kice says
ICE is focusing its investigations on what she calls key components of
the public safety infrastructure, such as airport employees.
Federal investigators found 124 illegal immigrants working at the
Portland International Airport in December 2001 and arrested 30 of them
for using false documents as part of a national sweep called Operation
According to Kice, ICE also is targeting employers who
intentionally break the law to employ illegal immigrants. Last month,
21 illegal immigrants were arrested at the North Portland office of
IFCO Systems North America, a pallet-building company. Nationally,
1,200 illegal immigrants and seven current or former company managers
were arrested during the sweep. Federal officials accuse the company of
recruiting workers in Mexico and Central America and paying to smuggle
them across the border.
Kice said ICE is conducting other investigations but declined to discuss them.
Ludwick expects more investigations and arrests if the state complies with the Real ID Act.
“Right now, Oregon driver’s licenses are an open invitation to
fraud,” he said. “But once the state toughens up its requirements,
identifying people who aren’t supposed to be here will be easier.”