Supporters and opponents agree: The outcome of the 2012 election, more than anything else, shaped how the Oregon Legislature responded to immigration issues in 2013.
“With all the people who came out to vote in November, our electorate made it clear in the 2012 election what the priority was,” said Luis Guerra, the new executive director of Causa Oregon immigrant-rights group.
A new Democratic majority in the Oregon House — the Oregon Senate remained in Democratic hands — ensured passage of two state priorities for immigrant-rights groups.
One bill was for students to obtain in-state tuition rates at state universities, regardless of their immigration status, if they graduate from Oregon high schools and meet other conditions.
The Senate passed similar bills in 2003 and 2011, but both died in the House. This time, the House initiated it, and both chambers passed House Bill 2787 and the governor signed it two months into the 2013 session.
One of the celebrants was Hugo Nicolas, a 2011 graduate of McNary High School, who said the bill will make it possible for him to attend the University of Oregon.
“This means there is hope that students like me can get out and contribute to their community,” he said.
The other bill was for people to obtain four-year driver’s cards, half the eight-year driver’s license, if they passed the driving-skills and knowledge tests but could not prove legal presence in the United States.
Lawmakers had made the latter a condition in 2008 to comply with a federal law governing the use of state licenses as identification for federal purposes, such as boarding commercial aircraft or entering federal buildings. The federal law, however, allows states to issue alternative identification for drivers.
A similar proposal failed to advance past a Senate committee two years ago. But backed by a coalition of business groups, Senate Bill 833 became law in a single month — and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed it into law at a May Day rally on the Capitol steps.
“We shared all the stories of all the families who are affected” by both bills, Guerra said, and his group will follow a similar strategy in an attempt to persuade Oregon’s congressional delegation to back federal immigration-law changes.
However, opponents of both state bills have not given up, although they are concentrating their efforts on just one of them.
Opponents have launched a campaign to gather the 58,142 voter signatures required to put the driver’s-card law to a statewide vote. They have 90 days after the Legislature adjourns — it would have been a deadline of Oct. 5 if the session had ended Sunday — to file the signatures with the secretary of state.
“We have had an amazing response,” said Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which opposed the bill.
“I doubt there is a town in Oregon where somebody has not requested a signature sheet. A huge number of people are outraged by this bill to give illegal aliens driver’s licenses. There is no question in my mind that if we are successful in getting on the ballot, they will revoke this bill.”
If there are enough valid signatures, the law would be suspended — it is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 — and the statewide vote would coincide with the November 2014 general election, unless lawmakers choose an earlier date.
Washington and New Mexico issue licenses without proof of legal presence; Washington has an “enhanced” license valid for federal purposes that also can be used in travel to and from Canada. Illinois will issue three-year cards in the fall, and Utah issues cards that must be renewed annually.
The in-state tuition law, which took effect July 1, also can be challenged in court. The law provides for a direct review by the Oregon Supreme Court, although the justices can delegate someone to conduct fact-finding proceedings before they hear oral arguments on the legal questions.
Such a lawsuit must be filed by Aug. 29.
Although some witnesses at Oregon legislative hearings suggested there would be a lawsuit, a similar law in California was upheld by that state’s highest court in 2010 — and the U.S. Supreme Court declined in June 2011 to hear an appeal.
“The problem is that the Supreme Court has been unwilling to hear those lawsuits,” Ludwick said. He said state laws appear to contradict a 1996 federal law that bars in-state tuition for students without immigration documents, unless the state laws waive requirements for out-of-state residents.
Oregon joined about a dozen other states with similar laws, including Washington.
Racial and ethnic minorities scored legislative victories on other matters this session:
House Bill 2517, which takes effect Jan. 1, allows full eight-year driver’s licenses to residents of three Pacific island nations — Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia — who are legally allowed to live and work in the United States. Under current law, these residents of nations associated with the United States have to renew their state licenses every year, because there is no limit on their stays.
House Bill 2611 requires health professionals regulated by specific state boards to undergo training in cultural differences in providing medical treatment. This “cultural competency” training will be set by the Oregon Health Authority.
Senate Bill 463, signed Wednesday and taking effect Jan. 1, will require the state Criminal Justice Commission to analyze how criminal sentencing and child welfare legislation may affect racial and ethnic minorities if requested by two legislators, one from each party. The law is modeled after a 2008 Iowa law.
However, House Bill 2661 remained in the budget committee, although it did have two hearings. It would have required the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to conduct a study of the interaction of police with racial and ethnic minorities.
pwong@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6745
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