SB 845 Testimony

April 22nd, 2011

Honorable Chair Beyer and members of the Senate Transportation Committee,

We are writing on behalf of the Rural Organizing Project (ROP). ROP represents 60 member groups across 31 counties of Oregon. We represent the residents of rural Oregon on several issues, today we would like to urge you to stand with us in supporting Senate Bill 845.

It is estimated that there are currently 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A number of those immigrants are in various stages of the lengthy and complicated process to obtain work permits, become permanent residents, or citizens.

Legislators recently introduced Oregon Senate Bill 845 which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Opponents to undocumented immigrants argue that individuals who have entered the country undocumented should not be allowed any rights, including the right to apply for driving privileges. Although this is an emotionally charged issue, we must look past those emotions to resolve the current situation and ensure the safety of all drivers. Licensing and verifying the true identity of all drivers, with proper background checks and other security measures, will contribute to improved security for everyone.

Issuance of a driver’s license to undocumented immigrants is an issue of public safety and economic prosperity. It will ensure that everyone obtaining a license be tested and insured. Because insurance companies only insure individuals with a driver’s license, more individuals would be able to obtain motor vehicle insurance. This would, in turn, drive down the cost of car insurance and make the roads safer for everyone.

Opponents argue that the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is a matter of national security and stated that driver’s licenses could also be used for identification purposes which may lead to more terrorists entering the U.S. However, failing to issue driver’s licenses or identification cards actually hampers law enforcement efforts to keep records of residents in each state. Everybody who operates a motor vehicle should be required to possess a driver’s license. Undocumented people are going to be driving, regardless if they have a license.

The current economic situation makes the situation with driver’s licenses more urgent. Various studies show that uninsured drivers result in losses to insurance companies. The economic losses caused by uninsured and unlicensed immigrant drivers affect insurance rates for everyone. The states that authorize undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses have lower rates of uninsured motorists and thus, lower insurance rates when other factors are not considered. States that deny licenses to their large undocumented immigrant populations, such as California, typically have high rates of uninsured driving. It is estimated that about a quarter of drivers in California have no insurance.

Laws restricting driver’s licenses in Oregon have inevitably led to a decrease in sales of motor vehicles, further hurting the economy. With the inability to purchase insurance, unlicensed drivers, whether documented or undocumented are far less likely to purchase vehicles. We should be doing all we can to promote growth in the economy and not impose barriers that further stagnate the economy.

Although much work is to be done on the issue of immigration, driver’s license restrictions demonstrably do not deter illegal immigration, but they do cost lives. Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) is charged with guaranteeing the safety of roads and highways, but does not have the resources to make this happen. Senate Bill 845 would insure that all drivers are contributing to these resources.

We see this as your chance to correct a misdirected policy from 2008. Giving access to driver’s licenses is a way to make our roads safer. This policy will give the state the opportunity to hold all drivers to the same standard of driving proficiency and insurance coverage.

In rural Oregon many of our businesses rely on undocumented workers to work our fields and processing facilities, as well as our service business and hospitals. While we can all agree that our immigration laws are broken and need to be revised, there is also no question that the undocumented immigrants who call Oregon home are integrated into the social, family, and economic lives of our communities. The safe travel of these people to and from their jobs, as well as their community activities, should be what matters most.

We ask you to vote “YES” on Senate Bill 845.

Steve Milligan of Polk Café Commons, Monmouth – ROP board member
Maria Sandoval of Save San Martín, Dayton – Community leader & activist
On behalf of the Rural Organizing Project and 60 rural human dignity groups statewide